A New Knight For An Old Castle
By Lois Podoshen
Once upon a time in Tarrytown, the owner of a big and beautiful castle spent millions and millions of dollars to turn his century-old structure into a world-class, small luxury hotel. But the money was stolen, and he went to jail. Then, a very successful and very rich Greenwich businessman bought the Castle for, realtors say, a steal—happily, a legal one.
erched high on a hill on Benedict Avenue, complete with turrets and an imposing stone faÃ§ade, The Castle on the Hudson, formerly The Castle at Tarrytown, looks very much like it came out of a fairy tale. But until recently, the Castle’s future was looking rather grim, with its former owner behind bars for embezzling some $70 million. What this stunning piece of property needed was a knight in shining armor rushing up on a white horse to rescue it.
Lo and behold, that knight appeared, but instead of sporting chain mail and wielding a lance, he came wearing a cashmere blazer, armed with a spreadsheet and backed up by a hotel staff of renown. This latter-day Lancelot is C. Dean Metropoulos, CEO of the
acquisitions firm based in Greenwich, CT, that bears his name, and the proud new owner of Tarrytown’s most imposing real estate. How much did he pay to buy this stunning piece of property—an opulent 31-room luxury hotel on 10.1 acres of land overlooking the Hudson River? A mere $10.9 million.
“Given the river views, appeal of the structure itself, and the extensive work to the building, it’s a steal!” declares real estate broker Henry Steiner of Hudson Homes in Tarrytown. (The previous owner poured $54 million into the property, which contains multiple millions of dollars worth of artwork and furnishings.) Metropoulos’s two sons, Evan, 22, and Daren, 20, have ownership positions at the Castle.
Just who is this knight who has gotten such a bargain for this luxurious facility, which was until recently a prestigious Relais & Chateaux hotel? Metropoulos, a handsome Greek-born Greenwich resident, is a reluctant and, by most accounts, humble Lancelot, who doesn’t seek the limelight or flaunt his success—which may be why you most likely have never heard of him. Although he and his many business ventures have been written about in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes and Fortune, C. Dean Metropoulos is hardly a household name. And its bearer wants to keep it that way. Unlike some real estate moguls, pop stars, politicians and until recently CEOs, he refreshingly doesn’t like to be characterized by his wealth and its trappings.
However, Metropoulos has been associated with products you most likely have heard of, products that are probably sitting in your cupboard as you read this. Is there a can of Chef Boyardee in the back of your pantry? Did you just fix yourself a tuna sandwich using a can of white albacore Bumble Bee? Did you make a bowl of Jiffy Pop to go along with the video that you rented for the family last night? All of these brands have been acquired by him.
“We have purchased 60 companies, including many distressed or orphaned brands,” Metropoulos says, sitting with his wife of 26 years, Marianne, in the Garden Room of the Castle’s Equus Restaurant, an airy dining space overlooking the gardens and the Hudson River. “We have the number one investment track record in consumer acquisitions.” In the past few years, Metropoulos has gone shopping in Europe, acquiring a number of European companies, including Cadbury, Mumm and Perrier
Jouet Champagnes. “We also bought Ghirardelli in San Francisco because my sons thought it would be great to invest in the chocolate industry,” he says.
Just what does this top-flight businessman do when he’s not jousting with numbers, doing battle in boardrooms, or jetting across the Atlantic Ocean? Yes, he has a G4 Gulfstream jet and, no, he doesn’t want to talk about it—or any other aspects of his wealth. He’d rather talk about his hobbies. Besides traveling “a great deal,” he enjoys “tennis, skiing in Europe, Vail, Aspen, and Stowe [where the Metropouloses have a home], and golf.” He used to play polo but “stopped two years ago.”
And what kind of music does a man who owns a castle listen to—Renaissance, chamber music, string quartets? “I listen to contemporary because of my boys,” he says. “Sometimes it’s Metallica.”
While he may listen to heavy-metal music, Metropoulos loves country, classical and opera music. He also loves history and Greece, as does his wife, Marianne, who is of Greek descent. She has even written an as-yet-unpublished book about the Greek fight for independence in the early 1800’s. The couple has tried to instill the love of Greece and its culture in their two sons. “Dean, for all his traveling and accomplishments, is happiest in Greece,” says Marianne.
For all his wealth, Metropoulos was “not to the manor born.” He comes from simple, hard-working beginnings. “The road to the Castle was the work ethic,” he declares. Born in the south of Greece, in Peloponesus, Metropoulos says he was a “very curious child, actually not too different from who I am today. I was restless and industrious.” His father was a carpenter and his family owned a few small vineyards and olive groves. When Metropoulos was 10, the family immigrated to Boston.
Even as a teenager, he was an enterprising businessman. In high school, he started a landscaping business and had several ice-cream routes. “My father wanted me to be a doctor, but I didn’t feel that was my calling,” he says. He received a scholarship to prestigious Babson College in Wellesley, MA (its undergraduate entrepreneurship program is considered to be among the best), and majored in international business, obtaining both a BA and an MBA. He then worked towards a PhD at Columbia University, but left after two years to join GTE International (now Verizon). “I wanted to learn the discipline of a large international corporation,” he says. “It was an important stepping-stone to my future career.” At age 30, he became the youngest corporate officer in the company’s international division, and spent a lot of time jetting around the world. Today, he spends one-third of his time in Europe, although as a devoted family man, Metropoulos, who frequently works in his Greenwich office but also commutes to his offices in New York City, Mountain Lakes, NJ, and London, always tries to be home weekends.
So how did this international persona, who has lived in Geneva, Paris, and Brussels, find himself the owner of an old Norman-style castle in Tarrytown, NY?
The Castle actually found him. “I was contacted by Insignia/ESG Hotels which was marketing it,” he reports. “Someone at Bear Stearns actually faxed me an article about it and said it would be an interesting investment.” Metropoulos took a ride to look at the property and found it to be “a very special place. Yet,” he says, “I didn’t see it entirely as a solid investment. It is a combination of an investment and something to be proud of, something unique.” The view is what probably sealed the deal. “It’s breathtaking,” the new owner exclaims. Philip McGrath, chef and owner of the Iron Horse Grill in Pleasantville, who was the opening chef at the Castle, couldn’t agree more. “It is one of the most unique hotel properties in the world,” he declares. (There were reportedly some 100 potential buyers interested in the Castle, so just why did Insignia/ESG Hotels choose to sell to Metropoulos? According to real estate broker Steiner: “Mr. Metropoulos must have had good qualifications to get it at that price.”)
No discussion of this knight would be complete without a description of his Castle. All 31 guest rooms and suites at the Castle are exquisitely furnished, and many offer wood-burning fireplaces. The ambience is truly like that of the castles of Europe, with intricately carved stairways of dark burnished wood, glowing sconces, and paintings in wide gilt frames. “It’s a challenge to make the Castle profitable and yet not commercialize it,” says Metropoulos. “I want to maintain the Old World charm.” In an effort to meld that Old World charm with modern convenience and luxury, he plans to add a 10,000-square-foot spa.
If, however, you are planning to spend a romantic weekend away with your significant other, know that Old World charm, attentive service and beautiful vistas don’t come cheap—a luxury suite can run upwards of $650 a night.
And what about dining here? What can you expect if you find yourself seated at the Castle’s Equus restaurant? You definitely won’t find any Chef Boyardee ABC’s, Jiffy Pop or Bumble Bee chunk light in this dining room. What you will find on the $66-prix-fixe four-course dinner menu are offerings like diver scallops roasted in bacon with glazed baby white turnips and watercress emulsion. For dessert, try the pear and almond tart. I did, and believe me, it is fit for a king.
There’s a new team in the Castle and its kitchen. Gilbert Baeriswil, an executive chef from Switzerland, has been brought in to be the food and beverage director. Patrick Terrail, original founder and owner of Ma Maison (a favorite Hollywood hangout for the rich and famous, where Wolfgang Puck got his start) and whose family also happens to own the venerated La Tour d’Argent in Paris, has been hired to consult on food, beverage and international events. And David Haviland, formerly of the Ridgeway Country Club and the Hilton Rye Town, is the new executive chef. The Castle also has a new manager, Peter Iwanowski, who has luxury hotel experience both here and in Europe.
But Metropoulos’s accomplishments are not just buisness oriented. Among his many awards and honors is one from the Hellenic Society for his generous participation in the Greek community, and he is the recipient of the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor Award for outstanding achievement. The Metropouloses also are involved in many charities. “We’re active in Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang camp for children with cancer,” Metropoulos says. The Vermont Campaign to End Childhood Hunger is another favorite of theirs and Metropoulos has also set up a fund in his mother’s name to provide medical assistance for people in need.
But what Metropoulos is proudest of, he says, is his family, his wife and his two sons, who are not as publicity-shy as their father. Indeed, they like to hang out with celebrities. Both have had a close association with Vince McMahon and the WWF (now WWE) for a number of years. They have shot TV ads with “The Rock” and “Mankind,” and remain close friends with many of the WWF stars. Evan, who ran the entire marketing department at Bumble Bee at age 16, has had his own MTV show, co-produced films starring Mariel Hemingway, David Carradine, Natassja Kinski and Nicolette Sheridan. Among his celebrity friends: Tara Reid, Chelsea Clinton, Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit, Snoop Dogg and Paulie Shore. His responsibilities at the Castle include overseeing special high-end events and working with the director of corporate sales.
Evan’s younger brother, Daren, who is a junior in college on the Dean’s List, has also been involved in his father’s businesses from an early age. He is currently overseeing the design and construction of the Castle’s spa, slated to open early next year.
Despite fame and fortune at such young ages, their mother, Marianne, is quick to point out, “They have been carefully raised to never define themselves by what they have, but by who they are.”
High above the Hudson in a darkly paneled anteroom, our knight and their father defines his new relationship with the good people of Westchester.
“Tell them,” he says, “I’m a high-ethics businessman who wants to maintain the historical integrity of this castle.” May Metropoulos and the people of this county live happily
Lois Podoshen is a freelance writer who recently visited castles in Hungary, Holland and The Czech Republic, but she had to come home to Westchester to actually meet a knight.