Astoria, Food and Drink, Restaurants
Oct 07, 2016

Small Business Owner Spotlight: Rob Williamson of Oliver’s, Halsey’s, and Mom’s

Scheduling a sit-down with Rob Williamson isn’t easy. After opening his third bar/restaurant in three years, he’s never been busier. This kind of quick success and expansion is unusual, so (…)

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Rob Williamson at Oliver's Astoria

Scheduling a sit-down with Rob Williamson isn’t easy. After opening his third bar/restaurant in three years, he’s never been busier. This kind of quick success and expansion is unusual, so I was excited to sit down with him and see how he was able to tap into the neighborhood so effectively.

Name of Businesses

Owned By

Rob Williamson & Hell’s Kitchen Hospitality Group

Known For

New breed of Astoria bars that offer quality product and a more casual atmosphere. Beer program is more advanced than just the basic craft offerings. Mom’s offers brunch all day, every day.

The Path

Originally from New Jersey, Rob started tending bar in midtown about 10 years ago at the House of Brews, owned by HKHG. He moved to Astoria to manage Oliver’s and has since become entrenched in the neighborhood. Note that he’s not involved in Astoria Craft, also owned by HKHG.

Focus on Quality

Like other successful bars in the neighborhood, Rob knows that Astorians are looking for a quality product. “You can’t fake quality. The food, the restaurant itself the staff – it all needs to be excellent. And it’s not easy.”

Oliver’s and Halsey’s are great places to watch sports, but both offer a more elevated food and beverage program than an average sports bar. And Rob continually scans for imperfections. He works hard to maintain the quality of the food presentation, the cleanliness of the bathrooms and decor. “Every little factor becomes a part of the experience.”

What’s Most Important?

Staff staff staff. “Once you have a core group of people who you can trust, who believe in what you’re trying to do, everything becomes easier.” Rob is constantly hiring. Besides the natural turnover rate for hospitality jobs, he employs actors and other creatives who periodically need time off for projects.

At one point while we were speaking at Mom’s, Rob jumped up to clear a table. The bartender, Kelan, told me how good it was to work for Rob. “He doesn’t micro-manage – he trusts us. It’s a positive environment.”

Favorite Place to Grab Food & a Drink

Rob is enthusiastic about the bar scene in Astoria. He name-dropped a lot of places, including Astoria Bier & Cheese on Broadway and Judy & Punch on 30th.

How Has Astoria Changed

With more options in the neighborhood, the clientele is starting to edge a little younger, and craft beer continues to be a large part of the beverage program. Oliver’s tap list rotates regularly for this younger clientele interested in trying new beers. And there are always a few options for the growing scene of beer nerds. The beer options at Mom’s are fixed and lower-priced, part of its ‘comfort’ concept.

What’s the Best Part of Owning These Businesses

Rob loves what he does…like, really loves it. If you’ve been to one of his bars, you’ve likely seen him bussing tables, washing dishes, running food, greeting guests – all with a smile on his face. Even when talking about the endless hard work of running three restaurants, he shines.

He told me that his 15-hour days feel like 7 hours. “Even the the tough days, if you can’t smile and take it in stride, what are you doing? We’re in the business of making people happy. We need to be happy too.”

There are a lot of 15-hour days. Running three bars means there is constant work to do. I asked when could I expect to see his fourth bar. He laughed and said that wasn’t happening. Maintaining three bars has Rob running around enough, a happy capacity.

2 Comments

Christine Menegus

“Our BaBa” is an Amazing Young Man and we are so “Proud of Him”

Love you Handsome,

Uncle Jimmy, Aunt Chris, Robbie & Larry

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