The story of Reunion
Réunion or Ile de la Réunion is a small volcanic island off the coast of Africa/Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. It was settled by the French and is considered one of their “Overseas Departments.” Populated permanently over 300 years ago by the French and enslaved Africans, it now has an incredibly diverse population calling themselves “Creole”—French, African, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese. They are an astoundingly beautiful and joyful people.
Today if you say Réunion to a European, most would describe it as we think of Hawaii, only scratch the grass skirts, hula dancing, American tourists, and fill in topless girls on the beach, Mediterranean-style cafes, and intrepid Frenchmen. It is a premier surfing spot, with many competitions, rock-reef breaks with super-fast waves, one of the best lefts in the world. The food is an amazing mix of the population's influences. They drink a national beer called Bourbon, but everyone calls it "Dodo" because of the extinct bird on the label. They also drink tons of rum which they infuse with island fruits and herbs, generically called “Rhum Arrange” or “Punch.”
In this beautiful space in Hell's Kitchen, a sexy restaurant, big on bar space, call it a French Surfer Bar...
Thomas Wilson loves to surf. Nicaragua's warm Pacific. His home break on Martha's Vineyard. Tunisia to the Outer Banks to Florida. Malibu to Montauk.
In his spare time he has been employed variously as a hay-throwing (and shit-shoveling) Farmhand, Lumberjack (both in the hills of Western Massachusetts) Ship's Carpenter, Sailboat Rigger, High-Tension Wire Rigger (High-wire artist Phillipe Petit's wires across St. John the Divine Cathedral, Grand Central Station, and the as yet unwalked 1/2 mile-high wire across the Little Colorado River Gorge in Arizona), and Drug Smuggler (donated tuberculosis medicine for a village in Northern Nicaragua during the Sandanista/Contra conflict and he's no fan of Oliver North's).
He has also owned, managed, and run the kitchens of some of Manhattan's most unique and successful restaurants and bars. Beginning his work in New York as a bartender working for Simon Oren, Isaac Kestenberg, Andy Damico, Robert Guarino, and Issac Davidov, where he was allowed to perfect his mixology and service.
After taking a year to circumnavigate the earth (including a solo crossing on horseback of the the Northern Gobi Desert of Mongolia through three months of spring blizzards), Thomas returned home with a touch of frostbite and a fully solidified entrepreneurial spirit. It was with fortunate timing, and the help of his friends and business associates Gene Ashe and Hugh Crickmore, that the first fine dining restaurant he opened leapt to the top of the New York Restaurant scene:
Esquire magazine called Mas(farmhouse)
One of the best new restaurants in the USA!, The Michelin Guide pronounced
...some of the best service in the city. and the Zagat Guide's voters gave Mas a rating of 28 points, one of only 3 restaurants in all of New York to receive such a rating. The New York Times said of Mas(farmhouse)
...for a restaurant of relatively modest scale it has a laudably immodest commitment to all aspects of a meal. Four years along, the restaurant is still making fans. More than ever it deserves them.
It was Gene Ashe, Thomas' friend, who truly shaped the diner's experience at Mas. When the time came to sell his beloved first restaurant Thomas promised himself that if Gene ever approached him with a business opportunity he would jump at it—That moment came this very year when Gene asked him about the possibility of reuniting some team mates from the formative years of their respective entrepreneurial endeavors.
Simon Oren, Robert Guarino, Isaac Kestenberg, Gene Ashe, and Thomas Wilson have reunited.
And the name of the place is Réunion.
Eugene is a native New Yorker, who spent his summers on the beaches of the Caribbean, Mexico, Spain, and locally at Fire Island and East Hampton, where he would take Summer jobs at local beach bars.
An avid body surfer and scuba diver, Eugene has always loved the beach. He is a licensed lifeguard and PADI certified diver.
Eugene has more than twenty years of experience in the world of fine dining and the nightlife scene.
Eugene served as manager and sommelier at Mas Farmhouse restaurant in New York’s West Village, and as General Manager of 5 Ninth restaurant in the meatpacking district.
Eugene is also a former Sony Music recording artist who has three Billboard Top 40 charted singles, a gold and platinum record to his credit, and believes that music is one of the most important elements of a bar’s ambiance.
Réunion’s playlist is a compilation of classic surf tunes from artists like Dick Dale, as well as Classic rock, Soul, and world music, from artists like the Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, and Nino Ferrer.
Additionally, Eugene is a graduate of Parson’s school of design architecture program, and lent his talents to the branding and visual concept of Réunion, including its logo, which evokes the tail of a surfboard.
Eugene is a Leo, who enjoys long runs on the beach, ending with a swim in the ocean, a cold beer, and a shot of fine rum.