dining
Back
catering
Back
products
Back
OUR TEAM
MANAGING PARTNERS
Tom Kaplan
Senior Marketing Partner

As Senior Managing Partner of the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, Tom Kaplan has worked alongside master chef Wolfgang Puck for more than 34 years in the development and operation of his world-renowned restaurants. His responsibilities range from overall business and financial management, company expansion and design supervision, to community relations and philanthropy for the company’s 26 domestic and international locations.

Since 1982, Puck and Kaplan have grown the company from several individual restaurants into a collection of restaurants known as the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group. Primary brands include Spago, CUT, re/Asian Cuisine, Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill, as well as Lupo, WP24, Five Sixty, The Source, Wolfgang Puck Steak, Cucina, and Wolfgang Puck American Grille. Over the years Kaplan has nurtured key strategic partnerships with luxury hotel brands and major casinos such as the Four Seasons, Dorchester Collection, Las Vegas Sands, MGM Resorts International, Ritz Carlton, St. Regis and Boyd Gaming. Currently, four new restaurants are in development internationally, as well as two in the United States.

Raised in Stamford, Connecticut, Kaplan relocated to Los Angeles in 1980 after graduating Magna Cum Laude from Bowdoin College that same year with a Bachelor’s degree in Art History, Visual Arts and a coordinate major in Environmental Studies. He has been a resident of Las Vegas since 1992.
Kaplan is intimately involved in community service and philanthropy. He is a member of the prestigious Brookings Institution Metropolitan Leadership Council and is a Board Director for the Council for a Better Nevada and the Fulfillment Fund Las Vegas as well as a member of the UNLV Foundation Advisory Board. He is also the Co-Chairman of the newly formed The Nevada Board, and was Vice President of the Puck Lazaroff Foundation from 1986-2004 and a Director for The Animal Foundation in Las Vegas, from 1999-2014.
He was named Nevada Restaurateur of the Year by the Las Vegas International Hotel & Restaurant Show in 2005 and one of the “50 Most Influential” in Nevada by In Business in 2008. In 2003, he was in the first induction group of the Las Vegas Dozen which honors men in the Vegas valley for their role in business and community involvement. In 2011, Kaplan was named “Humanitarian of the Year” by Greenspun Media Group’s publication Vegas Inc.

To compete with the rigors of the hospitality world, Kaplan enjoys running, cycling, skiing, and hiking. His passions include architecture, art, environmental issues, music, and travel all shared with his wife, Elizabeth and son, Austin.

Joe Essa
President, Wolfgang Puck Worldwide

Joe Essa joined the Wolfgang Puck group in 1999 as Managing Partner of Operations and assisted with finance and operations for the 15 fine dining restaurants coast to coast. During this time, he worked with his partners to ensure that the Wolfgang Puck fine dining restaurants led and continue to lead the industry in product quality, exceptional service and operational systems.

In 2004, Joe was appointed Executive Vice President of Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, Inc. and became responsible for the day-to-day business operations and brand development for the company. He was appointed President of Wolfgang Puck Worldwide in August of 2008 and has worked to refine and streamline the company’s business lines and initiate strategic partnerships to help further the Wolfgang Puck brand of casual restaurants and consumer products including packaged foods, media, cookware and appliances.

Prior to joining the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, Joe worked with restaurateur Pino Luongo in New York City, as Vice President of Operations at TOSCORP, Inc., which includes the restaurant concepts Coco Pazzo, Le Madri and Tuscan Square. He also founded and operated two successful restaurants, Assaggio in West Hartford, Conn. and Café Pasta in Greensboro, N.C.

Joe graduated cum laude from Boston College with a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting and finance. He is a Certified Public Accountant and is accredited by the National Restaurant Association.

His community involvement includes personal work with charitable organizations benefiting Meals on Wheels, Keep Memory Alive, Nevada Cancer Institute, Nevada Public Education Foundation and March of Dimes, among others.

In his spare time, Joe enjoys playing the saxophone, cooking, playing golf and spending time with his wife and their three daughters, Mary, Katharine and Margaret.

Lee Hefter
Managing Partner/Executive Corporate Chef

As Managing Partner and Executive Corporate Chef of the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, as well as Wolfgang Puck Catering and Events, Hefter is responsible for developing new fine dining menu concepts and maintaining the legendary quality and innovation established by Chef and Restauranteur Wolfgang Puck more than 25 years ago.

After years apprenticing throughout a number of New Jersey and New York-area restaurants, Hefter moved West, eager for change and further mentorship in the culinary industry. In San Francisco, he connected with Chef Barbara Tropp, an important guiding force in his career. Hefter spent two years at Tropp’s China Moon Cafe, one of California’s top Asian-inspired restaurants. In 1993 while working alongside Tropp, Hefter was pursued by Wolfgang Puck and soon after, relocated to Los Angeles to begin his tenure with the Wolfgang Puck family at the original Spago in West Hollywood where he worked as a sous chef for two years.

As his most influential mentor, Hefter credits Wolfgang with teaching him to realize his culinary vision – emphasizing the purity and simplicity of good food. At Puck’s direction, Hefter worked his way through Europe’s two- and three-star restaurants – L’Ousteau de Baumaniere, L’Aubergarde and Troisgros among them – before returning to Los Angeles as the Chef at Wolfgang’s Granita restaurant in Malibu. At Granita, Hefter began to make a name for himself, drawing patrons from all over Los Angeles, and earning high marks with the food press.

In late 1996, Wolfgang tapped Hefter to supervise the kitchen at Spago, Hollywood, to prepare for his future role as chef of Spago, Beverly Hills and continue his duties at Granita until his successor was in place. By opening in April 1997, Hefter was pleased to focus his efforts solely on Spago, Beverly Hills. With Wolfgang, Hefter has created an elegant menu emphasizing the best ingredients available, seasoned with influences from other cultures. The wide array of dishes changes daily, undergoing significant metamorphosis each season. Hefter is acclaimed by reviewers for the wonderful flavors and consistent high quality of Spago’s cuisine.

Under Hefter’s creative culinary direction, the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group has gone on to open several international locations of the modern steakhouse CUT (Beverly Hills, Las Vegas, London, Dubai, Singapore, Bahrain Bay and New York City (Summer 2016)), Spago (Maui, Istanbul) as well as other casual concepts across the globe.

Hefter’s continued passion for food and pursuit of excellence forecast more delicious meals, devoted fans and accolades in the years ahead.

Personal Awards and Accolades: Food & Wine “Best New Chef” (1997); Restaurants & Institutions “Best Young Chefs in America” (1997); James Beard Foundation “Rising Star” nominee (1997); Bon Appetit “Chef of Merit” (2004); James Beard Award for “Best Chef – California” (2005); James Beard Award for “Outstanding Chef” nominee (2007).

Alex Resnik
Senior Operations Partner

Alex Resnik began his tenure with Wolfgang Puck in 1999, now bringing more than seventeen years of experience to his current position as Senior Operations Partner for the acclaimed Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group.

In this role, Resnik oversees the development and success of nearly twenty fine dining restaurants worldwide. He serves as an active participant and supervisor for all dining room operations, training and recruitment for existing and future concepts within the brand.

Resnik’s first position with the company was in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Wolfgang and Senior Managing Partner Tom Kaplan offered him the position of General Manager of Spago’s Palo Alto outpost, where he worked until its closure in 2007. Under his leadership, Resnik helped lead the restaurant to critical acclaim, while also beginning to expand his managerial responsibilities to other Wolfgang Puck locations including Spago at Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, and CUT Beverly Hills at Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel for CUT’s debut in 2006. CUT Beverly Hills marked a turning point for Wolfgang’s fine dining sector as well as Resnik’s career as he would then become part of the opening team for all future fine dining concepts across the globe.

Prior to joining the Wolfgang Puck family, Resnik spent seven years (1989 – 1996) with the Gaucho Grill Restaurant Group where he worked his way up from dishwasher to Director of Operations for multiple locations throughout Southern California. It was here that his curiosity for the industry peaked but it wasn’t until he met Wolfgang, years later, that he realized his affection for hospitality could be fulfilled with the opportunities, strategy and family that Wolfgang provided. This passion and drive remains constant and is reflected in Resnik’s day to day operations.

Resnik was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina where he met his wife at fourteen years old. The couple has been happily married for thirty-six years and have two children, Nicolas (31) and Dylan (22). He is an avid soccer fan, following both his native national team, Argentina, as well as his Buenos Aires club team, River Plate. He has a passion for mentoring youth and on his spare time enjoys reading, following politics and discovering new culinary establishments across the globe.

David Robins
Managing Partner, Operations & Corporate Chef – Las Vegas

David Robins brings more than 20 years of culinary and restaurant experience to his role as Managing Partner, Operations and Corporate Chef- Las Vegas of the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group. A position he has held since 1995, Robins plays an integral role in restaurant development, culinary operations and team building for the company’s Las Vegas-based fine dining restaurants, as well as casual dining concepts domestically and internationally.

In Robins’ current role, he is responsible for restaurant development and overseeing the daily supervision of all dining room operations including front-of-house, staff training and recruitment. Robins has led the opening of five Puck restaurants in Las Vegas and is frequently traveling outside the city to assist his managing partners and operating teams in new restaurant openings, executing Wolfgang’s vision and upholding the quality and consistency of the brand.

Robins joined the company in 1992 to open Spago at The Forum Shops at Caesars. As executive chef, Robins led the Las Vegas iteration of Wolfgang’s flagship restaurant to critical acclaim, earning it and himself a number of accolades including a nomination for Best Chef – Southwest by the James Beard Foundation Awards in 2005 and was awarded Best Chef in Las Vegas at the 2003 Las Vegas Life Epicurean Awards. Most recently, Robins was named 2015 Restaurateur of the Year by the Nevada Restaurant Association.

In addition to his role with the restaurants, Robins donates his time to many philanthropic and charitable endeavors including Keep Memory Alive– Cleveland Clinic at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and served as a Big Brother in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization for five years. Giving back to the community is a high priority for Robins and a characteristic he works hard to instill throughout the restaurants’ staff. His extensive commitment to charitable endeavors led him to become inducted into the Las Vegas Dozen, which honors men in the Vegas Valley for their roles in business and community involvement.

When Robins is not traveling the country, growing and sustaining the company’s collection of fine dining and casual restaurants, he can be found spending time with his wife, Anna, and their two sons, Zachary and Nathan.

Carl Schuster
CEO-Managing Partner, Wolfgang Puck Catering

Carl Schuster brings over thirty years experience in the hospitality industry to his role as CEO of Wolfgang Puck Catering (WPC). With his partner, legendary chef Wolfgang Puck, Schuster founded and oversees the continued growth of the premiere national catering company.

Born in Minneapolis, Schuster’s heartland values directed his career path towards hospitality, following his father’s footsteps into the hotel business at a young age. Years of experience cultivated a passion for genuine service, and Schuster gravitated to food and beverage operations. He embraced the opportunity of an executive position with Kimpton Group, extending his fine-dining and banquet expertise. A leadership role with Manhattan-based Restaurant Associates (RA) persuaded Schuster to transition into catering and managed services. Responsible for developing RA’s west coast market, Schuster worked closely with Wolfgang Puck on the Academy Awards® Governors Ball, then held at an RA venue.

Identifying a unique opening in the marketplace for a chef-led national catering company, Schuster and Puck founded WPC in 1998. From an off-premise catering operation in Los Angeles, Schuster has steered the company’s national expansion into Cultural & Museum, Sports & Entertainment, Convention and Corporate hospitality. Delivering on Puck’s vision of a true restaurant-quality experience in a special event setting, WPC provides catering and corporate dining services in twelve major markets across the country for events up to 10,000 guests. Schuster credits the uniquely talented culinary team led by Chef Eric Klein for the company’s success, continuing to raise the bar on culinary innovation and uncompromising quality.

Schuster has developed key partnerships with leading entertainment and real estate companies including AEG, Woodbine Development, and Live Nation . In 2004, Schuster orchestrated a partnership with Compass Group North America, the leading foodservice management and support services company with $14.5 billion in annual revenues and recently named one of America’s 500 Best Employers by Forbes. Parent company of premium operators Restaurant Associates and Levy Restaurants as well, Compass Group’s partnership fueled WPC’s growth from $10m to over $140m.

Schuster shares Puck’s dedication to giving back. He serves on the executive boards of Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board and the L.A. Sports and Entertainment Commission, and the advisory board of Visit California. He is an active board member of Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA; the Fulfillment Fund, empowering students to achieve their dreams; and Camp del Corazon, a free summer camp run by volunteers for children with heart disease. Locally, Schuster supports community school and recreation programs, and chairs YMCA and American Cancer Society chapter events.

Schuster is a member of the Los Angeles Chapter of WPO (World Presidents Organization). He lives in San Marino, California, with his wife Leslie and children Alexandra and Jake.

CO FOUNDER
Barbara Lazaroff
CO-FOUNDER/PARTNER

Restaurateur and interior designer Barbara Lazaroff, A.S.I.D., is renowned for her innovative restaurant concepts. As President of Imaginings Interior Design, Inc., Lazaroff created the original concept and original design of Spago.

Lazaroff collaborated with her partner, chef Wolfgang Puck, to create and design a number of their restaurants, including the original Spago in West Hollywood (1982), which was the 1994 recipient of the James Beard Foundation’s award for Restaurant of the Year. In that
creation, Lazaroff launched a new concept in kitchen design by creating an exhibition
kitchen, which has become very popular in restaurants today.

With Puck, Lazaroff owns Spago (Beverly Hills, Las Vegas and Maui), Chinois on Main, and Trattoria del Lupo, Postrio Bar & Grill and Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill in Las Vegas.

In 1997, Lazaroff completed design of Spago when it moved to its new location in Beverly Hills. Voted the Top Restaurant by Food & Wine Magazine in 2000, the design featured exquisite hand-blown glass Italian chandeliers, a lush romantic garden with specimen olive trees, exotic flora, fountains, and glass doors on three sides opening to an interior filled with an impressive collection of art from Lazaroff’s contemporary collection. The entire restaurant’s vision has been drawn from a poem, penned by Lazaroff, entitled “The Flame of Life” which connotes the importance of striving for excellence and living a life filled with purpose and passion.

Additionally, Lazaroff designed Chinois on Main in Santa Monica and the formerly owned Puck restaurants Granita, Chinois Las Vegas, Spago Tokyo, and the Playboy Club Japan in Tokyo.

As co-founder of the Wolfgang Puck Food Company, Lazaroff developed the design of the former Wolfgang Puck Cafés, which were featured on college campuses and other venues in the United States, Canada and Japan. The signature Café design had showcased the company’s logo with Lazaroff’s custom “pizza chairs,” triangular-shaped fused glass sconces and elaborate, vividly colorful geometric mosaic on floor and wall surfaces.

Lazaroff’s innovative concepts and designs have received critical acclaim and she is known for conception and execution of singularly unique restaurants. Her projects have been featured in many design publications and books, and specific restaurant designs have been lauded in consumer publications, newspapers and broadcast media.

Lazaroff received the 1995 DuPont Antron Design Award for Hospitality for her exclusive carpet designs for the Wolfgang Puck Cafés. Lazaroff and Puck jointly received the Hot Concept award from Nation’s Restaurant News for the Wolfgang Puck Cafés. She is the 1994 recipient of the Assopiastrelle Design Award from the Association of Ceramic Tile and Refractory Manufacturers.

Lazaroff is a member of the Network of Executive Women in Hospitality, a founding board member of the International Association of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, a member of the California Women in Environmental Design and of the Hollywood Women’s Political Committee. Lazaroff has participated as a key lecturer in both the 1995 and 1996 “Call to Action” business conferences for women hosted by California Governor Pete Wilson. Lazaroff and Puck were jointly awarded the November/December 1995 Silver Spoon from Food Arts magazine.

Lazaroff also sits on the Board of Directors for the Hollywood Entertainment Museum. Among many charitable organizations, Lazaroff and Puck are major supporters of Meals-on-Wheels, founding and hosting 20 years of the American Wine & Food Festival in Los Angeles, which raised millions of dollars to provide meals for the homebound
disabled and elderly. Each year, Spago hosts a Passover Seder to benefit Mazon for hunger relief.

Lazaroff actively supports several AIDS organizations, including DIFFA, where she has participated on the 1994 Advisory Board, and AIDS Project Los Angeles, where she served as 1988 Chairperson of Dining for Dollars and a chairperson for the APLA/Elizabeth Taylor Foundation’s 1993 Passport event. In 1997 at the Divine Design Awards benefiting Project Angel Food and AIDS Project Los Angeles, Lazaroff, along with Puck, were awarded the California Style and Spirit award for their ongoing efforts towards cure, education and prevention, as well as for the impact they have had in “raising the bar” with regard to professionalism and quality in their industries.

The American Cancer Society bestowed multiple notations to Lazaroff and Puck for over a decade of dedicated service and for founding and organizing the annual California Spirit Gala. Lazaroff and Puck received the Humanitarian of the Year award in 1994 from the James Beard Foundation. In 1997, The Fulfillment Fund, an organization that provides mentoring, scholarship and education to inner-city children from grade four through college, presented Lazaroff and
Puck with their highest honor.

A native of New York City, Lazaroff’s early studies focused on theater arts, including set design and lighting. She went on to study biochemistry and experimental psychology, working in various positions in the biomedical field, before returning to her career in interior design over 18 years ago. Lazaroff’s experience in stage design was showcased in the kitchen sets for the instructional video “Cooking with Wolfgang Puck,” featured in Designer’s West, for which she also wrote the script.

In addition to her many humanitarian awards, Barbara was proud to receive an honorary Bachelor of Arts degree from the Interior Design Institute of Newport Beach, CA as well as an honorary Doctor of Business Administration in Hospitality degree from Johnson & Wales University, Providence RI in 1998.

Lazaroff is the co-author of “Wishes for a Mother’s Heart: Words of Inspiration, Love and Support,” a heartwarming ook which is a tribute to women of all ages celebrating the connections women share and the bonds of sisterhood that permeates their lives.

Lazaroff resides in Beverly Hills and has two sons, Cameron and Byron.