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In their own words: Michael Klauber

Founder, co-owner: Michael’s On East, Michael’s On East Catering and Michael’s Wine Cellar

Back story: After restaurant school, a couple of apprenticeships and overseeing his family's restaurant, Klauber set up his own shop in 1987. Today, at 51, Klauber is known as much for his knowledge of wine as his restaurant and catering operations, garnering accolades including the Grand Award from Wine Spectator.

In 1969 my dad was an orthodontist. He bought a hotel and he moved us from Buffalo to Sarasota. We didn’t know anything about running a hotel. I watched him learn the business and run the business from what his experience had been as a guest and a diner. It really created my whole business philosophy, which is to run my business from my guests’ point of view.

I did my apprenticeship at Arnaud’s. Archie Casbarian was the owner. Still is the owner. Just the consummate restaurateur. He was the kind of guy who would notice every single detail. The flowers missing, the light bulb out, a smudge on glass. A true perfectionist.

We did a fabulous event after Katrina. We raised $250,000 in one day. My real training was in New Orleans. It’s tragic. I’ve been there. It’s not moving fast enough. We were in the Ninth Ward, and you just don’t see anything happening fast enough.

I learned from my dad that you always give more than you expect to get back.

When I was working for Archie, about six weeks before opening, he let go of the chef who was doing the wine list. He said, “You took some of those wine courses at Cornell, right?” I said yes. He said, “Great, I want the best wine list in town.” I fell in love with wine and have been in love ever since.

About 90 percent of the wine I sell, I know the person who made it or visited their property. That’s a great feeling.

Very early on in my career, when I was working at the Colony, I was working very hard to transition that into a destination restaurant. People were starting to serve wines by the glass in restaurants, and you’d heard about some of the wine bars in Paris and one or two in the United States. I came up with the idea to serve Champagne by the glass. Dom Perignon by the glass in 1980 at the Colony. It got picked up by press all over the country and helped create the Colony as a wine destination. Had people driving from all over the state for it.

I love the fact that you can get that immediate gratification. I can walk into my dining room, see people dining, enjoying themselves. I can help people be happy. It’s a joy.

The hard part for me is missing watching my kids grow up because I’m here. That’s been the hardest part.

One of the most important things for a restaurant is to be capitalized properly. That’s a big mistake people make.

I’m a big marketer but not a big advertiser.

I had a couple who came in here for years, and it was very hard to make them happy, totally happy. We were always reinventing the dishes and the menu for them. We finally created a dish for them. When they came in with their friends, they had their dish. It wasn’t on the menu.

I am not great at doing the same thing day in and day out. I’m always looking for a new project. I’m easily distracted by what’s new.

One of my best days was when we did a renovation on Michael’s on East in 1988. Did a complete makeover. Demolition and starting from scratch. When we had the opening that night, I waited for my dad to see it. Seeing him walk in, look left and then right and take two steps back. It was, “I gotcha.” That was a very exciting day.

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