Grupo Gitano and the Rebirth of the Master-Mind Behind It All
Going into meet with James for the first time, I anticipated a fairly routine sequence of events: We would talk about the restaurant, chat about his background, and of course, what prompted him to bring the beloved world of Gitano to New York City… however, my assumptions were wrong. Mr. Gardner and I hit it off in a much more meaningful way, which makes writing this story even more exciting to tell.
To us, the arrival of Gitano in NYC is much more than just about a cool restaurant, but rather also a true testament to one’s ability to reinvent themselves and follow their dreams, no matter where we started or how far along in this life we may be. Coming from the world of finance, James found himself loving the inventive and creative side of business, especially as the technology and fashion worlds collided.
There is a saying that goes “If you ever find yourself in the wrong story, leave” and as his career grew, James did exactly that. He decided to reassess his passions and purpose and reinvented himself with Grupo Gitano. Founded in 2015 by Gardner, with investors and partners that include industry titans such as Melissa Perlman and Tungsten Partners, GRUPO GITANO architects, designs, develops and operates unique and innovative hospitality experiences and retail concepts. Born in Tulum and traveling the world, connecting and giving back to the community. GITANO has properties in Tulum and NYC with new locations to be announced.
In addition to an incredible ambiance, the F&B menu does not disappoint – GITANO Garden of Love will introduce an innovative, highly curated menu concept created by five of the world’s most impressive international chefs, inspired and connected by their shared love of Mexico and the Yucatán.
The team includes:
Chef Jose Luis Hinostroza, Head Chef & Partner, Arca Tulum (Mexico)
Chef Mike Bagale, Michelin-Star Chef, Alinea (Chicago)
Chef Mads Refslund, Co-founder, Noma, and Creative Consulting Chef at Large, GITANO (NYC)
The Chefs will collaborate with the GITANO culinary team headed by Executive Chef and Partner Yvan Lemoine. Each Chef will create a ceviche-inspired and taco-inspired dish.
Continue reading to see our full interview with James and get a little inspiration on what it means to be true to yourself and live your best life.
TT: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
JG: I’m always curious, extremely energetic and highly demanding of myself and others. Perhaps slightly crazy, I like to do things that aren’t possible or haven’t been done before. As a Virgo I’m a perfectionist although I’ve learned perfection is often an imperfection. I’m incredibly grateful for my journey so far and every moment we have here. Through my meditation practice I’m becoming more aware and learning to be kinder, calmer and more mentally, physically and emotionally healthy (note I need to get back to Barry’s!). I’m driven by a personal mission to build something meaningful and long lasting, with a purpose much bigger than me, something that shares love and happiness, I just love to make people laugh, oh and should make great money along the way!
TT: How long have you lived in NYC and what do you still love about it?
JG: I was born in a small seaside town on the south coast of England, grew up and studied in the English country side and the minute I graduated moved to London and started the fun part of my life, starting to accept that I liked guys and discovering the bars and underground clubs. Just a year later In 1994 I was offered a position to work on Wall St in NYC which I accepted immediately, having visited a few times I was obsessed. I worked at Goldman Sachs for a few years and was head hunted to a senior position as Technology Strategist at Merrill Lynch. While on Wall St I became friends with some of the most important creative talent in the Fashion industry at time it was quite exclusive and well before Instagram. I was Wall St by day, Fashion and Disco by night!
TT: How long have you lived in NYC and what do you still love about it?
JG: Well I guess I’m officially a New Yorker as it’s well over 10 years! I think we can have a love-hate relationship with this city. It’s though but also amazing and has changed so much since 1994 when the cobbled streets of the meat packing where I lived were still lined with glamorous street walkers, naughty clubs and Florent. Today its Soho House and Restoration Hardware World. I had a moment where we left the city late 2013 until last year actually. Taking a break makes the heart grow fonder and I’m so happy to be back!
TT: Tell us about your vision behind Grupo Gitano?
JG: To create an innovative platform of experiences and products that transport guests to another place, another time, that connect a like minded community of open minded, free spirits who love to travel and explore. Our mission is to surprise and delight, to share love and happiness through these experiences, to minimize our environmental impact with a focus on sustainability and to always give back to our community for example through our NYC urban farming education initiative.
We were born in and are inspired by Tulum and the Yucatán. There is great interest in Mexico and a new, cleaner take on Mexican cooking that is paired back and cooked with fire and ice and of course in Mezcal, we have developed the best cocktails, you will love our Jungle Fever, simple, delicious and spicy like all the best things in life. We have started in Food & Beverage with Restaurants and Bars in Tulum and NYC. We are expanding to new locations, Miami and Costa Rica are next. We will also move into full hospitality with hotels and other products like Mezcal. We have our own resort and jewelry brand CALÓ (GITANO means Gypsy and CALÓ is a Secret language of the gypsies) which rounds off the total bohemian GITANO lifestyle.
TT: What was your inspiration and who/where do you look for continued inspiration?
JG: My journey overall is a big driver and inspiration, the ups and especially the downs. I take inspiration and guidance from the universe. Tulum and Mexico are big inspirations. People who lived life true to themselves throughout hardship and have had an enormous impact on our culture today from Oscar Wilde to Frida Khalo are an inspiration. People who do things differently today, I’m inspired by Andres Balazs from a hospitality perspective, Nick Jones Of Soho house, and let’s say Kanye just because, I know him, he shakes things up, so incredible.
TT: What did you aim to achieve with Gitano?
JG: Something fresh, something we haven’t seen before, something people love with a passion. Did you know 4 of my NYC team members just got GITANO tattoos??, that’s real passion. I’m honored and humbled for the love and support we receive on a pretty broad level from some really great people.
TT: Biggest career achievement?
JG: Achievement, well I feel there have been a few good ones but without question it is transforming and empty 24,000 square foot lot, an entire city block in downtown Manhattan, into the hottest, funnest, yummiest 450 seat full service tropical and restaurant and bar, something you have never seen before and will never see again!