Q & A: An Interview with Nick Florescu, The Urbane Society’s Founder & CEO
Let’s start from the beginning – where did you spend your childhood years?
I was born in Austin, Texas and soon after moved to the Boston area. I spent a year in England when I was 11, but I finished my school career in New England with summers spent in France because both of my parents were educators, so we had the good fortune of summers off. My mother is French and late father was Romanian.
You come from a very international family – what brought you to Texas? And, perhaps more importantly, what made you stay in Texas?
Shortly after college, I was working in Paris in the shipping business for Gazocean, which had offices in the Pennzoil building in downtown Houston. Gazocean serendipitously transferred me to Houston in 1975 and I began my career in oil trading shortly thereafter. I stayed in Houston because business was lucrative, and I found Texans to be welcoming, a quality I appreciated because I knew next to no one. I feel blessed to have such an incredible and diverse group of friends, and my children have the same. It’s a great place to raise a family.
Thinking back to the earlier years as you were establishing your professional career, did you have a close mentor? What did you learn from him or her? And is there anything that he or she did that continues to inspire and influence you?
Yes, I did. My mentors were Rafael and Alberto Tudela. They were brothers from Venezuela and they gave me my first job in the oil trading business. It changed my life. They’re featured in a chapter in the book What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School which discusses Rafael’s ability to trade different commodities in different countries, by connecting people in deal making. He helped me think about the value of relationships and putting people together, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
You’ve had and continue to have your hands in several industries – what is it about restaurants and the hospitality industry that interests you?
First and foremost, it’s my enjoyment of great food in a social setting. I love being around people. My wife jokes that I can’t be alone for too long. Couple that with the great cuisine in this town, and it’s a perfect recipe. In Houston, dining out is a form of entertainment and socializing, since we’re not a pedestrian city and we’re always bottled up in our cars.
Thinking about Houston in particular – the city’s restaurant landscape is constantly changing and evolving, yet at the same time there is a deep respect for tradition and authenticity. Having lived in Houston for the past 40 years, what has it been like to witness firsthand the Houston restaurant industry’s evolution?
When I first moved here, there was a handful of fine dining restaurants – Café Annie, Maxim’s, The Palm, Rivoli, Rudi’s, Tony’s. Of those restaurants, Café Annie, The Palm, and Tony’s are still here today. What we’re seeing now is an evolution in culinary expressions based on the multi-cultural makeup of Houston. Today there are different infusions that blend different tastes and backgrounds, making the dining experience more interesting and diversified. Only recently have we seen chefs elevated to celebrity status. Restaurants have also changed the commercial real estate landscape – as large brick-and-mortar retailers have shuttered and downsized, contemporary dining destinations have filled real estate vacancies, bringing energy and foot traffic to struggling shopping centers.
In terms of The Urbane Society and its role within the restaurant industry, what are your hopes for how Urbane will help introduce and support innovation in the industry?
There are a lot of restaurants in Houston – the market is very saturated and very competitive. Urbane supports the restaurant industry, and our partner restaurants in particular, by connecting premier dining destinations with a very important and very powerful clientele – young professionals, who have a strong digital footprint and higher than average exposure because of today’s technological advances and changing consumer preferences. It’s critical for restaurants in Houston to introduce themselves to this younger generation, to establish strong lines of communication over effective mediums, and to build long-term customer loyalty. The Urbane Society provides the key that unlocks the door to this younger generation.
Urbane is the first private, members-only discount service that targets young professionals in the digital era. We recognize that our members communicate with each other, with their clients, their colleagues, their friends and family in a different manner – digitally, on their phones, over social media ... We’ve studied the behavior of this younger generation and, in response, we’ve developed an app that is specifically engineered to serve our target member, the young professional. We focused on building a seamless dining experience for our members, the restaurants’ patrons. And at the same time, we’re committed to operating a win-win formula wherein our partner restaurants are benefitting as well. It’s a long-term partnership for us – with our members and our restaurants.
There’s a lot going on at the Urbane offices – a number of initiatives in the pipeline, ideas we’re really excited about, things we think have the potential to truly energize the scene in Houston for young professionals.
Rapid Fire Round
Vodka or tequila?
Sushi or ceviche?
Dress shoes or sneakers?
Desert island – you can bring three items: one item for survival, one liquid to drink other than water, one item for entertainment. What do you bring?
A fishing rod for survival. Bai drinks to quench my thirst – I’m completely obsessed with them; the Urbane fridge is stocked at all times. Satellite television so that I’m never without my wife.
All Urbane Memberships and Services are temporarily on-hold in line with the current COVID-19 limitations. Please continue supporting our partner restaurants and services that are continuing to do take-out and delivery services at this time. Urbane memberships will be reviewed once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, and restaurants can resume normal business.