Tavern on the Green is slated to reopen at the end of January 2014 with new owners, new décor and a new chef.

Emerald Green Group won the contract to run the landmark restaurant in New York City’s Central Park. Owners Jim Caiola and David Salama also run Creperie Beaumonde and an attached club called L’Etage in Philadelphia. Katy Sparks, formerly executive chef of Quilty’s, a restaurant that was popular in New York City at the turn of the century, will lead the kitchen. In recent years she has run a successful catering business and consulting firm.

Tavern on the Green was one of the highest-grossing restaurants in the country when it closed on New Year’s Eve 2009 — a victim of the bad economy, labor troubles and the expiration of operator LeRoy Adventures Inc.’s lease on the space.

It has spent much of the past four years as a visitors’ center and a food truck court after union negotiations with would-be operator Dean Poll, who runs the Central Park Boathouse restaurant, fell through.

Caiola, Salama and Sparks discussed their plans for the restaurant with Nation’s Restaurant News.

How did you get the lease to operate Tavern on the Green?

Jim Caiola: I basically dropped my life for three-and-a-half months, as did Katy, as did our landscape designer [Robin Key Landscape Architecture], as did our architect [Richard Lewis], as did everyone who worked on it, because that’s how much work it was. It was like getting your Ph.D. in three months.

What did the city want?

Caiola: They wanted you to completely respond to every paragraph about the plan, and how it related to their ideas. So not only did you have to create your own idea…

David Salama: They needed full landscape plans, full architecture plans, full kitchen plans.

Caiola: We had to deal with three neighborhood associations, the city, the Parks Department, the Mayor’s Office and the Central Park Conservancy.

How did you finance it?

Caiola: We borrowed $16.7 million from a hedge fund. Another group was willing to finance it, but they had internal structural issues. A one-off restaurant is very hard to finance, even if it’s Tavern on the Green. It’s not like financing an owner of 40 Wendy’s restaurants to open another 40, and we’re not a big restaurant group, so we were very hard to finance. Had we found individual angel investors, we could have cut off a lot of [what we borrowed] and gotten $1 million each from 13 investors, but we had to borrow $16.7 million rather than $13 million to finance the interest we have to pay back.

The good thing about being in bed with this particular partner is we will never be undercapitalized; they’re deep pockets. The amount of money we pay for that is a pain. The hardest thing about this job is funding it and the easiest part is what’s coming up, which is the restaurant part.