Client Spotlight: John Rosatti, CEO of BurgerFi, Plaza Auto Mall
HMY Yacht Sales recently sat down for an interview with John Rosatti, Palm Beach resident, BurgerFi Founder, CEO of Plaza Automall, and longtime HMY customer. John's passion for boating, his expertise in yacht construction and charter, and in-depth experience with HMY Yachts made for a very engaging interview.
HMY Yachts: You grew up in Brooklyn in the 1940s and 1950s, which had to be an exciting time in New York. You’ve spoken about some of your earliest memories of being out fishing with your grandfather at five or six years old and learning to love the water. What is one of your favorite memories of being on the water as a kid and how has this shaped your passion for boating?
John: After retiring as a lieutenant commander in the Navy, my grandfather worked as a captain at Moran Towing Lines. He had a 32’ boat with two Chrysler engines and he took me fishing every Sunday, mostly for bluefish.
He trolled a lot and sometimes let me steer the boat. One morning when I was about five, he said, “Now you steer the boat. See that buoy all the way out there? I want you hit that buoy.” So I started driving toward the buoy, thinking that he wanted me to literally hit it. I shouted, “Hey, Grandpa! We’re about to hit the buoy!” He was in the back of the boat, but when he heard me yell, he ran forward and grabbed the wheel right before we hit the buoy, saving the boat in the nick of time.
Sometimes he cooked the fish we’d caught and we had it for breakfast right there on the boat. Just being with him was fun. There were always a lot of friends on board laughing, drinking, and enjoying themselves, and I loved being a part of that. When we’d get back to the dock, my grandfather would throw me into the water with a life preserver on and a rope tied around me, since I hadn’t yet learned to swim.
My father was a mechanic and he used to help my grandfather fix the boat. He allowed me to help him, so I acquired mechanical skills at a very young age. I have great childhood memories of being on the boat with my grandfather. I fell in love with being on the water then—and I still love it today.
HMY Yachts: You own several successful businesses including multiple restaurants and the Plaza Auto Mall in Brooklyn, NY. How has boating helped you to relax and manage the stress that comes with owning more than one business? How has it helped you stay connected with family and friends?
John: I do use my boats to relax, but I also mix business with pleasure. My latest build is a 213’ Codecasa, called Double Down, which is where you will most likely find us during our free time. However, when we're not on board, we always offer Double Down for charter.
After I sold the Christensen, I was working hard on BurgerFi and thought I was finished with boating for a while. Then, after about four months, I felt lost on weekends, so I started looking for a new boat. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to buy, but I knew I wanted a boat bigger than the 164’. I was considering a 175-footer or a 180-footer, so I started looking at boats with (HMY Yachts Sales Professional) Jack Robertson.
We looked at about ten boats and then went to Italy to see the Codecasa. It was the first boat I looked at in Europe. I wasn’t looking for a 213-foot boat, but when I saw it and met Zuzana on board (Now Mr. Rosatti’s girlfriend) I fell in love with more than just the boat. She was the chief stewardess, and I must have come back to the boat at least four or five times. Zuzana very much influenced my buy. I had to fire her, though (laughing). She’s not the boat’s chief stew anymore—but she did help me design the interior.
Mr. John Rosatti combines business and pleasure aboard his motor yacht.
HMY Yachts: BurgerFi, your newest business venture, is the fastest-growing all-natural burger franchise in the country. You’re on pace to open 150 locations nationwide. How did this concept get started, how is it different, and where do you see it going in the future with all of the “me-too” burger joints your brand has inspired?
John: By the end of the year, we’ll have 100–105 franchises open and will be on pace to open the next 150 locations. I don’t believe any of the other burger restaurants are similar to ours. The idea for BurgerFi came from my other restaurant, The Office Delray, which is a modern gastropub in Delray Beach. Despite having a full menu with lobster tacos, steaks, and fish, the biggest sellers were the two burgers on the menu. Based on that, we created BurgerFi, which is different because the burgers are what we call natural. A natural burger means that the entire herd is vegetarian fed and has never been given any steroids, growth hormones, or antibiotics, either by feed or by injection.
We know about and control everything: from the farm, to the grinder, to the delivery to our store. We’re able to get the freshest, safest, and most delicious burgers possible. We created the hand-cut French fries, beer-battered onion rings, homemade frozen custard, and then designed the restaurant around the all-natural burger by building it with sustainable products made out of recycled Coca-Cola bottles, old milk jugs, etc. Our chairs, picnic tables, ceiling fans—pretty much everything in the restaurant—is made out of recycled products. We also recycle our cooking oil into bio-diesel. We became a completely natural restaurant—from our menu, to our design, to our business practices—which is different from any other burger restaurant out there today.
We also had a vision to support and grow our restaurant workers so they’d have better opportunities for their families, which we call the Stars and Success program. We spend a lot of time training and educating our people. About 20 of our general managers started with us three or four years ago in hourly positions like working as a cook or washing dishes. Now they’re running stores for us, have tripled their weekly income, and it their quality of life has improved. We want to keep the “American Dream” alive through our restaurants and how we treat our team members.
HMY Yachts: One thing that stuck out to me when reading about you was your choice of brands when it came to what kinds of cars, yachts, and planes you buy. You have two Rolls-Royce customized Wraiths, as well as one Ghost, have owned two Viking Yachts 74’ Sportfish, several Christensen motor yachts, and the Bombardier Global Express. All of these brands would be considered the very best in their class. How do you go about selecting the brands you trust?
John: I enjoy the good things in life, including my Rolls-Royces. I have one in New York that’s an extended Ghost, where I have a driver, but I really enjoy driving the cars myself. I collect Lamborghinis and Ferraris—I’m a car guy, a real gear-head. My first car was a 1949 Oldsmobile Coupe that I got when I was 16. I took the engine out myself and replaced it with a 1962 motor.
But I love the water, too, and I think that Viking Yachts are the best sportfish ever made. I trust Steve Moynihan (the owner and founder of HMY Yachts); he’s like part of my family. So if Steve recommends a certain brand or type of boat, then that’s what I go with. So far, I’ve owned two Viking Sportfish, and I’m currently looking at a 92’ Viking.
Mr. John Rosatti enjoys "the good things in life" like collecting luxury yachts, cars, and planes.
HMY Yachts: There is mention on your website about your mechanical skills and what seems to be an ongoing interest in mechanics and machinery. Do you still work on or tinker with things mechanically and did you do that with your own kids?
John: I still enjoy the process of building something, whether it’s a business or a yacht. I like dreaming up an idea, working through the process, and seeing it come to fruition, so that’s still very much a part of my life. My children have excelled in different areas, but they never were interested in the mechanical side of things. All of my kids went to college, and now my daughter Angela is running the three big restaurants, my son Adam is running the car dealerships up in Brooklyn, and Crystal recently graduated from Brown University.
HMY Yachts: Your website, JohnRosatti.com, mentions that the Rolls-Royce Wraiths you own are “customized to the hilt.” I’m eager to hear about what customizations you might have made and why you did them. Can you please elaborate on how you changed them and are they the same on both cars?
John: You really can’t customize Rolls-Royces too much. They’re really beautiful cars in themselves and I typically love them just the way they are. But I’ve changed wheels, I’ve put spoilers on, and I’ve done some wrapping to change the colors. The 2016 Wraith I have has been lowered and spoilers were put on it.
HMY Yachts: If you own a Viking Yacht, chances are you are going to do some fishing. Do you have any fish stories to share, and and how often do you go fishing?
John: We used to take the Viking out fishing three or four times a week and spend the day fishing. We liked to run out to the Hudson Canyon for tuna, dolphin, or whatever was out there. I enjoy fishing, but I also like to be out on the water even when I’m not catching anything.
One of my best fishing stories is when I entered the HMY Billfish Blast tournament and ended up catching a marlin that weighed 602 pounds. It was our first tournament ever, on a brand-new 74’ Viking, and we won the whole thing. No one could believe it when we got back to the dock.
A Viking Yachts 74' Convertible was the sportfish of choice on John's fishing trips.
HMY Yachts: In the past few years, HMY Yacht Sales has sold two Viking 74’ Sportfish for you, as well as your Christensen 164’. What made you choose HMY to represent your yachts and how was your experience?
John: Without a doubt it’s because of Steve Moynihan and my broker Jack Robertson. Not only are they close to where I live in Palm Beach, but Steve is a really great businessman. HMY absolutely dominates the market; they’re everywhere. I can’t open a magazine without seeing an HMY ad. And Jack has done all of my deals for me, from start to finish. I wouldn’t sell or buy another boat with anyone else.
HMY Yachts: With everything you have going on, how do you maintain the right balance of business, family, and philanthropy? And can you give the readers a little hint on what might be next for you in the coming months?
John: I just keep going and keep working. I don’t sleep much; I’m always busy, thinking and working. There’s always a new project to begin or a problem to solve. I can’t sit on a beach for more than five minutes—I have to be doing something. But it’s not stressful for me; it’s fun. I enjoy what I do, and it’s how I live my life.
The growth of BurgerFi has definitely kept the team and me very busy. We’re also in the process of acquiring a Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep dealership in New York, as well as another Hyundai dealership. And, we’re chartering Double Down in the Mediterranean in the summer and in the Caribbean in the winter. I don’t see myself retiring, so I’ll probably work until my last day. I actually did try to retire when I was 50, but failed miserably. I just started buying more businesses and never really stopped.
HMY Yachts: Are there any anecdotes you live by or share often with people?
John: Always work hard, always keep your word, and always be good to people. If you do those three things, you’ll be successful at whatever you do.
Double Down, Mr. Rosatti's 213' Codecasa Motor Yacht is available for charter.