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Monday, August 17, 2009

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: William Jack Degel, Founder and Owner of Uncle Jack's Steakhouse

Born on September 1, 1967 in Queens, NY, William Jack Degel demonstrated his entrepreneurial skills early on when he helped with family finances by operating multiple newspaper routes and other service ventures. Degel started several successful business ventures before opening his first restaurant, Hollywood & Main in June 1990 in Flushing, Queens. Degel’s hands on management style and charismatic personality ensured its success. But Degel had a vision for a steakhouse unlike any other, utilizing the highest quality products available and uncompromising service. In March of 1996 Degel started work on his dream, Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse. Opening in November 1996, Uncle Jack’s was an immediate success filled with local sport stars, celebrities, and politicians. Degel worked for the next seven years refining and perfecting its operations receiving numerous awards and outstanding reviews. In his quest to find the highest quality products to serve in Uncle Jack’s, Degel tried many established steak sauces. None met his exacting standards, so he decided to develop his own line of sauces. He created three unique recipes using the freshest and all natural ingredients available, Uncle Jack’s Steak Sauce, BBQ Sauce, and Sesame Teriyaki. Uncle Jack’s steak sauces are now available in 3,000 gourmet stores today.

About 5 1/2 years ago, William opened a second Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse on Ninth Avenue and 34th Street in midtown Manhattan. Degel designed a beautiful 19th century, prohibition-style Victorian Saloon with hand-carved mahogany bar and walls, copper-pressed ceilings and stain glass fixtures. Opening on December 15, 2003, Uncle Jack’s, once again, immediately became a local favorite. With its three distinct dining areas, Jack’s creates a warm and comforting appeal. The Library Room is great for corporate meetings and features a state of the art video conference system with 42” plasma screen. It is decorated with a 24 carat gold leaf coffered ceiling, fully paneled cherry wood walls, custom made chandelier and hand carved mahogany conference table. The red and white El Presidente Room with mezzanine seating, theatrical balcony, and coffered ceilings seats seventy people and features turn of century presidential portraits. In November of 2007, William Jack Degel opened his third location in the heart of Manhattan’s theatre and shopping district at 56th St between 6th and 5th Avenues. This is where the Whom You Know panel dined and elevated Uncle Jack's Steakhouse to Peachy's Picks.

With his business model now well-cast, and his loyal customer base continuing to expand, William Jack Degel is now focused on opening more Uncle Jack’s Steakhouses, especially throughout the greater New York tri-state region, including the newest edition to the Uncle Jack’s family in Atlantic City, NJ inside the high-end Pier Shops of the Caesars Hotel along the boardwalk. This spectacular water-front property will be a vast 10,000 square foot build-out. Several party rooms which will accommodate a multitude of groups from bachelor parties to business meetings, share space with the grand a la carte dining, patio seating, and luxurious bar/ lounge.
In addition to this undertaking, William wants to provide an approachable brand of the Uncle Jack’s group to accompany this spacious new full-service restaurant. At Jack’s Burger Shack, residents and tourists alike will find a selection of the highest quality classic burgers known for their freshness! Burgers, shakes, and a thoughtful kids menu will keep families entertained while relaxing on the water. Opening dates is tentatively scheduled for May of 2010.

Along the way, William Jack Degel and Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse have been the recipients of recognized awards from Wine Spectator Magazine, Sante Magazine the American Academy of Hospitality Science’s 5-Star Diamond Award, and Crain’s New York Business Magazine “40 Under 40” . He was also nominated for Ernst and Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award for 2006. William and Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse have been written about in many major magazines and newspapers. There has been ongoing television coverage about them, everything from “Live with Regis & Kelly” to Fox News Channel, featured on David Letterman, and Mr. Degel has cooked on national television. Whom You Know is pleased to present him as our latest Mover and Shaker!

Peachy Deegan interviewed William Jack Degel for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: What do you enjoy most in operating your enterprise?
William Jack Degel: I feel that one of the most important investments I can make in my operation lies in the teaching, training, and mentoring of my employees. I understand that these people are the key to being an extension of my ideas on taste, service, class, and what I present as a dining experience to our patrons.

Peachy has an Uncle Jack; do you have an Uncle Jack? Tell us about him please.
As a boy I heard tales of my late Godfather’s speakeasy known as Jack’s. I grew up enlivened by my Uncle Jack’s stories about the Steak House and Speakeasy he owned on Columbus Circle in the 1920’s. They used to make bathtub gin during the Great Depression. My restaurants pay homage to the days when service and luxury weren’t valued as a privilege given strictly to celebrities or the wealthy. My mantra, “In Jack’s, we trust,” is a true reflection of the ambiance, service, food quality, and respect every customer receives in this very special dining experience.

What are the concrete components of your exacting standards?
Uncle Jack’s prides itself on consistency and quality. I personally select the finest produce, seafood, and beef available in the world for our restaurants. Execution is the next step. Every item at any of our 3, soon to be 5 locations follows my recipes which we teach like a science. I have been a chef and have even cooked on TV. The recipes are a mix of old family heirloom recipes and my personal taste for the best!

Who are some of your most interesting clientele?
Giuliani is a regular. So is Trump. We have lots of athletes, musicians, and actors who frequent our Westside location as well like Shaquille O’Neil, the Entourage actors, the Hiltons, Dwayne Wade, Dan Marino, Halle Berry, Adam Sandler. We keep signed framed napkins of the stars in our hallways for d├ęcor.

What is the most challenging part of the restaurant business in Manhattan?
I would have to say maintaining my high standards and consistency daily between multiple locations. We find the very best Management available and regiment them with these standards. Then, the staff is put through a rigorous 5 Star Training program. I am in constant contact with the stores at all times. I don’t sleep!

What is the funniest thing that has happened to you in your career?
Everyday something new and funny happens to me!

What are the most popular menu items at Uncle Jack's?
I like to recommend, for steak, the Porterhouse for two because you get the best of both worlds. You get the taste of the filet mignon which is the tenderloin, and then you have the sirloin side which has a heavier texture, more fat and more flavors.

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
I saw how my father had worked when I grew up in a working class family in Flushing, Queens. As a boy, my entrepreneurship and hands-on management talent developed when I ran multiple newspaper routes and did various handiwork service projects around my community. My late father worked two jobs as a longshoreman and postal worker and encouraged me about the importance of being a risk-taker in order to get ahead and succeed in my career.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan?
I am really more of a family man. My time spent not working is precious and I like to spend it at home with my wife and three beautiful kids!

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan?
Saks 5th Avenue, Macy’s or any old traditional New York department store.

What is your favorite drink?
Light beer.

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan?
Mr. Chows.

What is your favorite Manhattan book?
I don’t read books; I read people.

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience?
I would say being on the field at Yankees Stadium for Uncle Jack’s Day with my son Dylan!

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else?
Getting stuck in bumper to bumper traffic.

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience?
Going clubbing. (chuckle)

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here?
There are many great and many overrated restaurants in and around the City that base their claim to fame through marketing and hype. Truly great cuisine is a labor of love and most of the big name chains lose the personal touch that makes a restaurant the best.

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?
BIG APPLE BUSINESS. I try to stay informed on all business news.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
I love what I do!! Service, service, service.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?
They can email me directly at

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