Photo courtesy of Peter Luger Steak House

Why We Stay

Ron Gelbard: 30 Years of Leadership at Peter Luger Steak House


In an industry with an annual employee turnover rate of 74%, what makes some workers decide to stick around for years, or even decades? You’re reading Why We Stay, a regular interview series with longtime staffers that aims to answer this question by learning from those who are living it. Find inspiration from their stories to enhance your company culture and boost retention in your restaurant.

Name and Current Role: Ron “Ronnie” Gelbard, Manager
Restaurant: Peter Luger Steak House, New York City
Year Joined: 1993

“I’m not the normal restaurant hospitality guy,” Ron Gelbard reveals as he reminisces about his start at Peter Luger Steak House. In fact, Ron, affectionately known as “Ronnie,” used to own an auto body shop. One day, while searching for a part-time job, he responded to an ad in a local paper for Peter Luger and was promptly hired. That was in 1993. Thirty years later, Ronnie is the longest tenured manager at the restaurant.

“I started at the bottom,” he recalls. “At the time, I didn’t think I would stay long, so they filled in tasks for me to do. I was fine with anything. I worked in the kitchen for a bit, I did cashier. Pretty quickly, I moved up to assistant manager, then manager.” Subsequently, he opened another body shop and only kept work at Peter Luger one or two days a week. “I worked Monday nights and filled in when someone was on vacation. I always kept it because I liked the place,” he adds. “It was always a lot of fun, a busy place. It gave me a charge, and I enjoyed it.” A few years later, he sold his auto business and returned to Peter Luger full-time, where a manager role awaited him, coincidentally.

Working at the restaurant has honed Ronnie’s people skills. “This is the number one thing for me: keeping things running smoothly over the night,” he says. “You learn to recognize situations—whether it is diffusing things for customers or recognizing little tits and tats between employees.” His ability to make critical decisions when they arise has been instrumental in his growth within the role, earning promotions from management.

You have to be honest with your staff and give them a chance. Train them on the way you want things done. — Ron Gelbard

People are the heartbeat of his job. He points out, “It’s great when you meet stars—Henry Kissinger, Adele, Pete Alonso—but I’m taking care of customers now in their third and fourth generations. That, to me, is really nice. You know them, their kids’ names, their kids’ kids’ names, what college they’re going to. It’s a nice family we’ve been building for a long time. That’s always what’s been special about this place.” He sometimes even goes to dinner or a Jets game with customers turned friends.

The Forman family, owners of Peter Luger Steak House since the 1950s, put trust in the employees they hire. “They go above and beyond to take care of us, because they realize that everyone is working hard,” Ronnie shares. All employees get healthcare, bonuses, sick time. When asked about advice for restaurant operators aspiring to foster a positive company culture, he emphasizes, “You have to be honest with your staff and give them a chance. Train them on the way you want things done.” Importantly, he ensures that all his staff is treated with respect, affirming, “We can all learn from each other.”

Some longtime staff members even surpass Ronnie’s tenure. Ned Krasavac and Karl Zartler, both waiters, have worked at Peter Luger for 35 and 45 years respectively. Abu Tashi, a cook, recently celebrated his 25-year anniversary. Peter Luger has also been able to attract and retain new talent. Fresh blood has joined, both staff and customers alike. “Now, Williamsburg is really hot. I love seeing this young crowd, sitting at the bar. It’s the next generation coming to Peter Luger and that’s really cool to see,” he says proudly.

Ronnie has no plans to retire anytime soon. “You blink your eyes and all of your sudden, my daughter is now 17. It goes really fast. With a great staff, I’m genuinely happy with what I’m doing.”

*Opinions and views in articles shared on Resy OS are presented for the purpose of discussion and commentary on topics of interest in the restaurant industry; they should not be viewed as substitutes for advice given by professionally engaged business consultants and advisors.