How a New York restaurateur survived his run-ins with the mob

When Stratis Morfogen opened his first restaurant in Manhattan in the 1990s, he had no intention of ever telling a member of John Gotti Jr.’s team to “fuck off.”

But for “The Golden Greek” — a nickname Morfogen earned through his contacts with the mob for his money-making ways — standing up to the mob has become a way of life as a New York-based restaurateur. . Now, the owner of Brooklyn Chop House in lower Manhattan is naming names in his new book, “Be a Disruptor: Streetwise Lessons for Entrepreneurs ― from the Mob to Mandates,” which will be released Tuesday.

Morfogen opened Gotham City Diner on the Upper East Side in 1993. Soon after, crowds made their presence known.

“I had a promotions manager, his name was Noel Ashman…one night Noel comes in with a black eye, I said, ‘What’s going on?'” he said. Morfogen to the Post in an exclusive interview.

“Some gangsters said we had to pay them every month or they’ll keep beating us up,” Morfogen recalled. “[Ashman] pointed out names to me and I recognized they were Gambino guys.

Wise among the wise

Morfogen knew Carlo Gambino from an early age. Gambino slipped him $20 bills while eating at his family’s restaurant.
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Morfogen was not naive about the Cosa Nostra. He grew up on Long Island in the 1970s and his family owned a Howard Beach restaurant where the don Carlo Gambino crowd was a regular. Gambino swiped 6-year-old Morfogen’s $20 bills and asked him about school.

After opening his own spot, Morfogen enjoyed frequent visits from Ralph Coppola and Bobby “Bucky” Carbone of the Genovese family.

Underboss Coppola became so close that he called Morfogen “nephew”, and Carbone entertained him with stories from the other side. One night, Carbone even told him the story of the first man he killed, Morfogen said. It was in a bar, in a debt collection gone wrong.

But Gotti Jr.’s team was different.

Gambino died on Long Island in 1976 and John Gotti was behind bars thanks to the testimony of Sammy “the Bull” Gravano. In his absence, his son, Gotti Jr., ran the show — and intimidated restaurateurs — in the 1990s.

The people of John Gotti Jr demanded protection for the restaurant from Morfogen, he said.
John Gotti Jr.’s people sought protection for Morfogen’s restaurant, he said.
New York Post

“John Gotti, Jr. and his crew, that’s how they lived. They would rock every restaurant from the Upper East Side to Midtown,” Morfogen said.

As a new kid on the block, it was Pony Morfogen’s turn. Or at least that’s what two of Gotti Jr’s “big bosses” thought.

“I said, ‘What do you guys want? “, Morfogen recalled. They told him, “‘We want $5,000 a month or we’ll break your windows every week.’ »

“I said, ‘Let me give you the quick answer: fuck you. That’s how I was, I had no fear at all.

Take care of business

After Gotti Jr's crew made his threats, black paint was repeatedly thrown at the windows of Morfogen's restaurant, he said.
After Gotti Jr.’s team made their threats, black paint was repeatedly thrown at the windows of Morfogen’s restaurant, he said.
freelance

Soon after, someone started throwing black paint on the restaurant windows every night. Morfogen scrubbed them every morning.

Coppola noticed this happening and told Morfogen to “keep still”.

Two days later, Morfogen got a call from one of Coppola’s guys, telling him to stop by the now defunct Ferrier Bistro restaurant at 10 p.m.

“When I arrived Ralph was there with Bucky and all the Gambino capos were in the back, seated…so I sat with Ralph, Bobby and the five heads of the Gambino family,” he said.

“Ralph basically says, ‘Listen, this kid is with us and you’re saying [Gotti] Jr. to back down and if he doesn’t back down, it’s going to get out of hand.

“And my head just spun… just like that, the guys turned around and said, ‘Hey, we love this kid, he’s a good kid. Don’t worry, we’ll talk to Jr. and crush this. Lo and behold, he was crushed.

Just like that, Morfogen was under the protection of the Genovese boys. Carbone even put an ice pick in the thigh of an employee who he claims stole $30,000 from the restaurant. He said they never asked for anything in return: “It was a real friendship,” Morfogen said.

A friend of ours – and a new enemy

Ralph Coppola, whom Morfogen called the
Ralph Coppola, whom Morfogen called the “underboss” of the Genovese family had become his silent business partner.
FREELANCE

Following Gotham City’s continued success, Morfogen opened a club called Rouge with Coppola’s silent support.

Things were fantastic. The club quickly rose to fame when New York Rangers captain Mark Messier won the Stanley Cup. One night, Morfogen accidentally kicked Madonna and Tupac out the door because he didn’t recognize them.

But he also caught the eye of a West Coast mobster who wanted to “buy” his way into nightlife.

A “Jewish gangster from Los Angeles” sat Morfogen down at his own club and tried to make him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“He pulls out a pen, he writes on a napkin ‘$10,000’, then he pulls out a 9mm, pulls out a bullet and puts it on the table.” He told Morfogen, “It’s this or that.”

But Morfogen was not worried. “He didn’t get the memo,” he said. “He didn’t know that the most powerful people in the world were already protecting me.”

Morfogen immediately took the issue to Coppola and Carbone. They couldn’t stop laughing.

Funny how?

Stratis Morfogen learned firsthand what mob partners can do for a business.
Morfogen learned firsthand what mob partners can do for a business.
Stratis Morfogen went from being supported by the crowd to becoming a friend of theirs.
Morfogen went from being supported by the crowd to becoming a friend of theirs.

“I walk into the club at 1am on a Saturday night and [Coppola, Carbone and the LA gangster are] all sitting in the back in the VIP room having fun drinking champagne.”

Morfogen was not amused.

“Around 4:30 a.m., they are still drinking. I walked up to the table and said, ‘Are you having fun?’ I was a little pissed off. Ralph, I’ll never forget, he said, ‘Nephew, we’re having a good time,’ and he looked at me to walk away.

Morfogen got the message. “As I was walking away, I heard Ralph say, ‘Let’s get down to business. I heard your offer and here is my counter-offer,” and he took a 60-pound candelabra and hit it on the head. Then Bucky came running towards me to get me out of the nightclub and put me in a cab while this fight was going on.

“When I arrived at Rouge nightclub the next day, there was no blood on the floor, no blood on the walls. But I noticed the carpet was gone.

go clean

Stratis Morfogen paints a very candid picture of life with mob ties in her forthcoming book.
Morfogen paints a very candid picture of life with mob ties in his upcoming book.

This kind of flawed loyalty was shown to Morfogen for years to come. He knew Coppola would always be behind him – which is why he was shocked when he didn’t show up at his wedding in 1998.

“At my wedding, I noticed two empty chairs. Ralph and his wife never came. I was blown away by that. Ralph was really like my uncle and I wouldn’t go a week without talking to him,” Morfogen said.

“Bucky came up to me that night and said, ‘Ralph is gone.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘Ralph is gone. Don’t ask anymore.'”

Years later, Morfogen was informed that Coppola “went to a meeting in Harlem and never left the house”. That’s all he knows, even now.

Coppola’s disappearance shook him. With his silent partner gone, he took it as a sign. “I really didn’t want to be a part of it anymore,” he said of mob life.

And, he felt like the crowd was no longer the friend it had been.

“In 2005, I was really in trouble – divorced, lost my [old] business and I didn’t get a call from any of these guys to see if I needed anything… [Ralph] would have called me every day,” he said.

But a few years and businesses later, the Mafia came knocking on the door again in 2006 through a Genovese associate.

The associate came on behalf of two capos who wanted “a wrap” from Morfogen, who had just gotten back on his feet.

The response was the same he gave Gotti’s team a few years ago when he was just starting out: “Tell them to fuck off,” Morfogen said.

“I said, ‘Don’t make a rat out of me…I’m done with you guys’…they never came back or bothered me again.”

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