Wolfgang Zwiener was asking for trouble by opening his Wolfgang's Steakhouse just down the street from Spago, which happens to be run by some other guy named Wolfgang. Last year Zwiener agreed to use his full name if he ever opened a restaurant outside Manhattan - and technically he does. But in a trademark infringement lawsuit filed in L.A. Superior Court, Puck says that the "By Wolfgang Zwiener" part appears in small print. “People have come to me and asked why I was opening another steakhouse in Beverly Hills," Puck said in a statement. "My friends have repeatedly urged that I take the steps necessary to correct the ongoing misleading impression." Thing is, Wolfgang Zwiener isn't just some guy looking to piggyback on Puck’s fame. He's a player, having worked at Brooklyn's famous Peter Luger Steak House for 41 years and more recently opening two of his own NY steakhouses - to very good reviews. Alex Witchel profiled Zwiener in the NYT some years back.
Back in the days when a waiter was a waiter, not an actor who serves up his audition woes with the entrée, Wolfgang Zwiener came to New York from Bremen, Germany, fully prepared: he had completed a three-year apprenticeship for the job. After a stint at Lüchow's on East 14th Street in the early 1960's, he went to work at Peter Luger Steak House in Brooklyn, where he stayed for 40 years, becoming the headwaiter in 1968. He married and put his two sons through college (Steven at the University of Chicago and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he received an M.B.A., and Peter at Columbia University, then the University of Chicago for his M.B.A). With Mr. Zwiener approaching retirement -- he'll be 65 in June -- he considered moving to Marco Island, Fla., where he has a vacation home. But his son Peter and two other waiters from Peter Luger had a different idea. Why retire if he could take his 40 years of experience and finally become an owner? The boss? And not only that, go for the big time and open in Manhattan?
On a recent Tuesday evening, there was not an empty seat in the house at 8 p.m., and the bar was packed. Mr. Zwiener greeted guests at the door, elegantly turned out in a jacket and tie, his hair as impeccably groomed as his pencil-thin moustache. He looks as if he should be sipping a coffee with Claude Rains. Still, his new restaurant has its own cachet. Located in what used to be the Vanderbilt Hotel, built in 1912, the space seats 110 and is capped by arched and tiled ceilings designed by Guastavino (they're designated landmarks), which lend the room a snug, festive feeling.
Zwiener also has plans to open in Hawaii and Miami. As for the Canon Drive location, Peter Zwiener, Wolfgang's son and co-owner of the steakhouse chain, tells the LAT that it's "the new restaurant row."