Real Estate Agents: Serving Up More Than Deals

As if being a successful real estate agent wasn’t an accomplishment enough, these five superstar brokers have their toes (or feet) dipped into the hospitality industry as well. From partnering in restaurants to owning hotels, these Douglas Elliman agents have found that hospitality and real estate have a lot in common—most importantly, relationships.


Monica Novo, Real Estate Agent & Partner in Empire Diner & Daren Herzberg, Real Estate Agent & Partner in Union Hotel

New York City & Gowanus, Brooklyn

Monica Novo and Daren Herzberg, part of the Novo + Herzberg + Babst team, set their sights on conquering not one, but two dynamic industries. Business partners and friends, both Novo and Herzberg bring their hospitality background to the table of real estate.

Monica Novo learned about operating restaurants through Stacy, her wife of 15 years, who is an owner of both Empire and the restaurant Cafeteria in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. As a partner in Empire Diner for 2.5 years, Monica says that real estate and restaurants go hand-in-hand.

They’re both service industries where people want what they want, and it needs to be top quality. Buying real estate and eating food are emotional experiences.

In both of her fields, Monica feels a great connection to people and place, whether it’s being part of a new building that will change the New York City skyline and become home to her clients, or continuing the legacy of the iconic Empire Diner providing patrons with a memorable dining experience.

For Daren, a connection with the hospitality industry was immediate—as soon as he was presented with the idea to partner in a new hotel in Gowanus, Brooklyn, he knew he wanted in. After building the property from the ground up, Union Hotel officially opened in 2011.

I was very bullish on the Gowanus neighborhood as it was just starting to gentrify. I saw the potential given its location being nestled between two of Brooklyn’s nicest neighborhoods, as well as its rich industrial history. As an environmentalist, I was inspired by the superfund project to clean the canal and wanted to somehow be a part of the change.

Being involved in Union Hotel connects Daren to a diverse group of real estate related people and companies including guests, vendors, and lenders. He says that a large percentage of Union Hotel’s guests are from Europe.

“It’s always great to connect with people from other countries and hear their perspectives on New York City in general. Sometimes the anecdotal data is of more value than published statistics and reports when determining whether or not to make an investment.”

Being agents of service comes with a lot of responsibility, and both Novo and Daren take their people skills wherever they go—when it comes to closing deals, or serving meals.

Prato 850

Michael Murphy, Executive VP/Head of Operations DE Commercial & Partner in Prato 850

Commack, New York

Prior to delving into real estate, Michael Murphy worked in restaurants to support himself through college. He credits working in the service industry for teaching him about people, business, and hard work—all skills that he has used as a successful real estate agent.

I’ve said for years that everyone at some point in their life should work in the service industry. Owning or operating a restaurant helps teach you how to interact with people face-to-face, and adapt when problems arise. Communication skills and resourcefulness are vital in all businesses.

Within the last year, Michael has gotten back into the restaurant business when he and his family opened Prato 850, a trendy state-of-the-art gastropub with a relaxed and inviting atmosphere. With a commitment to fresh, high-quality ingredients and locally-sourced produce, Prato 850 serves craft cocktails and pizzas that come out of an 850-degree wood burning pizza oven—hence the number in the restaurant’s name.

Michael Geraci, Real Estate Agent & Partner in Randazzo’s Clam Bar

Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn

While real estate has been Michael Geraci’s passion for the last 16 years, restaurants are in his blood. Michael grew up working in the kitchen and behind the counter of his grandparents’ restaurants from the time he was eight years old, through his teens and twenties. He currently handles the social media for Randazzo’s Clam Bar, which has a 100-year history, while his cousins run the day-to-day operations.

Michael says that restaurants and real estate have a lot in common, foremost for him is serving the community and getting to know the people who live there.

A big source of new business for a restaurant, and as a real estate agent, is word of mouth referrals. You want your consumer or client to have a good experience so they not only come back, but they tell their friends and family how good it was.

Michael’s two worlds also collide at times. He has been the broker for friends and acquaintances he made while working in the restaurant when they decided to sell. Getting people from point A to point B in their lives is something he loves about being a real estate agent.


Paul Zweben, Real Estate Agent & Partner in Calle Ocho and BLT Steak

New York City & Washington, D.C.

For Paul Zweben, the phrase “the customer is always right” rings true in his real estate career and as a restaurateur. With a love for cooking that started in his 7th grade home economics class, Paul began his career as a chef. He then became a partner in Calle Ocho, and BLT Steak, which he has been involved with for 12 years. Later his passion shifted to real estate, which he says is his true calling, and where his main focus currently lies.

In both businesses, Paul says that the customer experience is paramount. The goal in both industries is to get repeat business. In order to do so, you must provide the best service. Some of the skills Paul learned in restaurants that he applies in his real estate career are negotiating skills, taking care of customers, and going with his gut.

—by Jacqueline Kuron

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