Restaurateur Julian Niccolini Declares Michael’s the Winner of the Power Lunch Wars

The roster of media mavens, moguls and boldface names spotted today at Michael's.

DianeClehaneLunch_FeaturedI’ve been chronicling the scene at Michael’s for 10 years now and today ranks among the most epic Wednesday ‘Lunches’ ever. None other than Julian Niccolini (wearing sparkling silver Thom Browne wingtips) sauntered through the dining room. People thought they were seeing things as the displaced restaurateur made his way to the Garden Room to join director Joel Schumacher, Pete Peterson, Jay Peterson, executive producer of the instantly addictive Lip Sync Battle and a few other fellows at their corner table. (Pete likes a quiet spot which are few and far between on Wednesdays. Hence, the table in the back.)

Dan Fuchs, Diane Clehane and Sara Peterson

I had to dash back to Julian’s table to ask the former Four Seasons co-owner what it felt to be a power luncher rather than preside over a room full of them.”The power lunch is right here!” he declared. “There’s nothing but four walls over there.” Obviously still in a reflective mood about the storied restaurant’s closing just last week, he told me without me having to ask: “The thing that keeps a place like this going for 25 years is the incredible people who come here. I have the utmost respect for Michael [McCarty, the owner of Michael’s].” As if you ever had any doubt, that does it. To all the naysayers that have long predicted the demise of the power lunch: it is alive and thriving at Michael’s.

I also got a chance to ask Joel, who directed one of my favorite films of all time (St. Elmo’s Fire!) and recently directed episodes of House of Cards, what he thought of Garry Marshall‘s passing. “Gary was born a mensch and stayed a mensch. He never changed and was incredibly loyal. He picked Julia Roberts for Pretty Woman when she was an unknown. I’m sure he had to fight for her. There are a lot of people very grateful to him.”

OK, now on to the main event. I was joined today by HGTV Magazine’s editor in chief Sara Peterson and publisher Dan Fuchs. All through our lunch I kept thinking about that whole ‘work spouse’ thing. “Hearst launches magazines very smartly. We’re encouraged to work together,” said Dan, who has logged 13 years at the company. “Ideas come from both sides [of the magazine].” This very enthusiastic duo have been at the top of the masthead since the launch of the title five years ago. Both remember every detail of the events leading up to their professional union. Sara was toiling as special projects editor and Dan was the associate publisher of O, the Oprah Magazine. HGTV Magazine was “on the radar for a while,” explained Dan, who said his longtime mentor Michael Clinton advised him to “be patient.”

The magazine, a joint venture between Hearst Magazines and Scripps Networks Interactive, was a hit from the start. “We went out with a rate base of 450,000 and we crushed it,” said Dan. The actual number came in at nearly double their projections.

HGTV Magazine’s June issue was their biggest ever and coincided with the announcement that it will raise its rate base to 1.3 million from 1.25 effective with the January/February 2017 issue. The title is among the top 10 bestselling monthlies at the newsstand and a whole host of advertisers across multiple categories are flocking to its pages.

“Clearly, there was a need for something like this,” said Dan. “We’re a home magazine that feels like a lifestyle magazine. We’re in between Martha Stewart, Oprah and Real Simple at 2 million [circulation] and the traditional shelter books between 40o,ooo and 800,000. We’re at 1.3 million.” He explained that HGTV Magazine’s HHI of $75,000 has enticed advertisers like Mercedes-Benz and beauty companies including L’Oreal, Maybelline and Arden into the book. “We just broke Aveeno. We’re very excited about the beauty category.”

As you might expect, HGTV Magazine is filled with content featuring the network’s popular personalities. “Sometimes they’re contributors, sometimes we do a feature like ‘A Day in the Life of’ or a decorating story. Readers love the back page round-up where they share tips and recommendations,” said Sara. “Readers like it when they feel like the stars are shopping just for them.” The magazine team meets with the network’s producers periodically to “trade information” about show launches and specials so as to best showcase the talent that the readers love.

I had to ask what my favorite designing duo, Hilary Farr and David Visentin of Love It or List It were like off-screen. “It’s always fun when they come by,” said Dan before Sara chimed in: “They have the same great banter they have on the show. David does those same asides. They bicker as if they’re a married couple.” (See, it’s that work spouse thing again.) Sara told me The Property Brothers Jonathan and Drew Scott — are “the hardest working people” she knows. Fan favorites Chip and Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper are “always great” and are featured in the July/August issue in a special section offering readers ‘Secrets to Fixer Upper Style.’

But Sara was quick to point out that the magazine also uses designers that aren’t affiliated with the network. “We use a range of experts from all over the country.” Want to know how the editors pick houses to feature? I did. “The editors are very plugged into the designers and are always scouting homes, which is so easy now because you can do it from your desk,” said Sara. “Really, it’s old-fashioned networking.” One thing I noticed about the magazine’s bright, cheerful pages is that unlike more highfalutin shelter books, there are actual people populating the featured houses and rooms. “We want to show people living their real lives. We have a rule that no one can be anonymous.”

Dan flipped through the latest issue to show me the ‘custom content’ created for Stearns & Foster as an illustrative example of how the magazine and the shows work together to build the business. The advertiser’s product, which also runs on the network, is featured in a fold-out section along with a promo for Brother vs. Brother and a photo and pull-quote from one of the show’s stars, Jonathan Scott.

“We’re always looking for ways to do something different,” added Sara who reached for the third annual Paint Issue where the door on the cover opened to a greeting from advertiser Behr Paint inviting the reader to ‘Come on in!’ “Isn’t that fun?”

No doubt there are big doings afoot to mark HGTV Magazine’s fifth ‘birthday’ (“We like that so much better than anniversary,” said Sara.) The upcoming October ‘Birthday’ Issue will feature a special section filled with a slew of the editors’ “Favorite Fives,” she explained, “We’re going to do things like ‘Our Five Favorite Lamps That Don’t Look Expensive.'”

Having interviewed so many EIC-publisher duos at Hearst over the past few years, I am always struck by everyone’s unbridled enthusiasm for their titles. On a sliding scale, I’d put Sara and Dan at the top of that list. I asked Dan, who also worked at Condé Nast, what was in the secret sauce. “We are as print proud a company as you can get,” he told me as we sipped our cappuccinos. “It’s the best career decision I ever made.”

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Desiree Gruber hosting a table full of gals including Fortune’s Pattie Sellers. Not sure what was on the menu but everyone left with a nice Giorgio Armani gift bag.

2. Comedian David Steinberg

3. Andrew Stein

4. Leonard Lauder and a very tan Marigay McKee, whose 15 month tenure as Saks’ president and subsequent exit kept fellow fashionistas talking for quite a while. Wonder what these to were chatting about? I just wanted to ask her about her fabulous shoes, but never made it over to her table.

5. Peter Brown

6. Penske Media’s Gerry Byrne with his son Gavin Byrne and some folks we didn’t get the chance to meet.

8. New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia with author Linda Fairstein whose new book, Killer Look, is due out next Tuesday.

9. Christine Schott Ledes and George Ledes

11. Vanity Fair scribe Rich Cohen, whose cover story on Margot Robbie for the mag’s latest issue got the Twittersphere all riled up and Tom Freston

12.  Barry Frey and Quividi’s CEO Ke-Quang Nguyen-Phuc and east coast regional manager Olivia Bombart

14. Spinmeister Stu Zakim who told me he’s working on Ken Burns’ latest Academy Award campaign for his documentary Defying The Nazis: The Sharps War (Seems a little early, but what do I know?) His other client, Amazon Studio’s The Man in the High Castle, which you may recall got off to an inauspicious start with that unfortunate Nazi subway make-over, scored four recent Emmy nods. No doubt due in part to Stu’s tireless efforts. Congrats!

15. Jay Kriegel

16. Julie Hadden

17. Shirley Lord and Linda Janklow

18. Tom Rogers

20. Cast director extraordinaire Bonnie Timmermann with Oliver Stone‘s son Sean Stone. Hmmm.

21. PR maven Judy Twersky who was nice enough to introduce me to Hara Estroff Marano, whose cover story for Psychology Today poses the very timely question: Is Tech Sabotaging Your Love Life?

22. Suzanne Dawson

25. British Heritage Travel’s Jack Kliger

27.HGTV Magazine’s Sara Peterson and Dan Fuchs, Hearst’s Lauren Picciano and yours truly.

29. HSN’s Peter Rubin

Diane Clehane is a FishbowlNY contributor. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.