Back in the day, P. Diddy's (a.k.a. Sean Combs) Justin's NYC was the premier establishment for celeb dining. As the Chef at Justin's a few years ago, I had many opportunities to cater to music industry and other celebrity types. I also managed large private parties for friends of Mr. Combs.
With a southern friendly menu, and signature drinks like the "Big Poppa" and the "Lil Kim," Justin's had a massive appeal to both everyday diners and Diddy's exclusive clientele. There weren't many places in NYC where you could catch a glimpse of stars ranging from the N.B.A. to Hollywood, and especially those in the music industry. Justin's attempted to bridge the gap so everyone could benefit from a nice night on the town.
However, the expectations and the execution where so drastically different that the restaurant wound up suffering to keep the blue collar patrons coming back for more. The food was very comforting--mac and cheese, fried chicken, red snapper, and red velvet cake. It tasted no different from a low-key soul shack--but the prices for this basic fare were pretty unreasonable. People dropped $25 and up for entrees like chicken and waffles--and some were none too happy about it.
During my time there we held a birthday party for Busta Rhymes and his rapping entourage. He actually came in to the kitchen to thank us for not messing up his favorite cake -- the red velvet.
I also did an event for the 2002 MTV Music Awards. Justin's did off-site catering behind the scenes at the event for a party that Diddy was hosting later on that night. An endless amount of stars walked through, from Diddy's assortment of female followers (Kim Porter and a few other ladies of interest) to actual royalty from the Middle East. The food was overlooked as most of the people in that room where either drunk or "partying" with illicit materials. We had offers to partake in some of the shenanigans and drug use, however we all declined.
Often some of his artists would frequent the bar at random times of the day. Black Rob in particular could be seen at the bar even when we where not quite open for service.
Popular sports figures also constantly made their way into the dining room. One night I actually bumped (literally) into Latrell Spreewell as he was mingling with two other Knicks--Marcus Camby and Alan Houston. To my surprise, Latrell actually recognized me from the kitchen and gave me some kind words about the food.
In 2002, I was there the night New Jersey Nets star Chris Childs was robbed at gunpoint in the parking lot of Justin's. Childs had just left the restaurant and was walking to his Mercedes when the four men approached him, one of whom brandished a 9mm handgun at him. The men then demanded he empty his pockets. They made off with a diamond encrusted watch, 800 dollars cash and his cell phone. Chris was not injured during the robbery and the men were apprehended a few blocks away in a nearby subway station.
Before I left Justin's they started a new promotion to draw in business. Power 105.1 & BET's Rap City host Big Tigger began hosting, Monday night football. The stars and patrons would flock to watch the games on a big screen with all types of fried food amenities. Not only was the regular Bad Boy entourage filtering in, the NFL would even bring in some of their own people to watch the games during the athletes' off time. It was exciting to interact with all the famous people, but often the kitchen received no love for all of the hard work put in. Tigger would get on the mic, and give praise to the waiters and bartenders--even the managers, but not once did he thank the chefs for all their work, or even at least for the free food he was getting.
Working for Diddy was an interesting time to say the least. I wish they had focused more on the food and less on who was coming to eat there. It could have had a different ending.