Scott Sartiano ’97: Politician of the Night
By Dina Cheney ’99
Restauranteur Scott Sartiano '97
Scott Sartiano ’97 thought he’d
end up as a politician. But rather than pursuing a law degree
and entering the world of tailored navy blue suits and The White
House, Sartiano found himself surrounded with bodysuits and
house music. As co-owner of Butter, the acclaimed restaurant-with-a-DJ
in the East Village, Sartiano spends nights cavorting with the
likes of über-models Carmen Kass and Iman, Teen Beat
demi-god Carson Daly and rapper Jay-Z. Not bad for a nice guy
from North Carolina.
So how did Sartiano go from a tennis-playing political science
major and Fiji member to a Tribeca-residing nightlife impresario
with plans to expand into additional restaurants, hotels and
casinos? Simple: Sartiano is an honest businessman with a Columbia
education — not a dime a dozen in the nightlife realm.
And, unlike many other entrepreneurs, he doesn’t seek
the limelight: “I’m sort of a shy guy by nature,”
Sartiano notes. “And I don’t want to be labeled
‘the nightlife guy.’ Labeling limits you. I eventually
want to move on to bigger things.”
Sartiano’s integrity and entrepreneurial drive helped
him earn the trust and acceptance of powerful New Yorkers in
the nightlife industry, and his Columbia experience taught him
how to interact with a variety of people. And, as he puts it,
“Minor things change the path of your life. I made one
wrong move after another and all of a sudden found myself in
the club business.”
One of those “wrong moves” was breaking his wrist
during his senior year. Forced to sit out from tennis, Sartiano
soon began promoting parties at Life and other Manhattan clubs
as a way to earn extra money. “I never went into a nightclub
before I was paid to be in one,” he says.
After opening a small “no name” bar
in the Village, Sartiano was noticed by nightlife
big-wigs and, at 25, became executive director of
the well-known establishment Spa. When a club colleague,
Richie Akiva, suggested that they open a restaurant
together, Sartiano agreed — he was tiring
of the club life and ready for the next big thing.
After pooling their cash and raising money from
investors, the pair launched Butter in May 2002.
The hip and trendy restaurant soon was a success,
written up in Time Out New York and New
While many would tire of the long hours and stress of opening
a restaurant, Sartiano was hungry for more. He soon became partner
in The Deck at Pier 59 Studios as well as his second restaurant,
Salt, at the see-and-be-seen Hamptons nightspot, The Star Room.
By adding these ventures to his already full plate, Sartiano’s
workdays soon crept up to an occasional 20 hours in duration.
What has made Sartiano’s establishments
so successful? “I create an environment that
is better than people’s houses, whether through
music, a scene, or food and drink,” he explains.
“One of my friends calls me an ‘ambienteur,’
and I think that’s true. Plus, what I’m
best at is putting a great team together. No man
is an island. The keys to business are marketing
and delegating — you need to know how to hire
the right people.” And hire the right people
he has: For example, the chef at Butter, Alex Guarneschelli
’92 Barnard, hails from Daniel Boulud’s
Now, Sartiano, who cites Ian Schrager and Rande
Gerber as role models, is deciding whether to open
another restaurant in New York City or Los Angeles,
or perhaps a nightclub-restaurant in Las Vegas.
Despite this success, his dream of becoming a politician remains.
“I’d love to run for office one day, maybe the New
York City Council. I’d especially love to help small businesses.”
Dina Cheney ’99 is
a freelance writer and recipe developer. She offers
private cooking classes and guided tasting parties
through her business, Cooking by Heart.