The RKF broker on secret sushi restaurants, wearing shorts at work and being straight with landlords
By Mark Maurer
Ariel Schuster is a vice chairman at the retail brokerage RKF, where he handles leases for some of the largest chain stores in the city, including the Gap and Pret a Manger. His clients also include landlords such as SL Green Realty, the Winter Organization and Premier Equities. The 38-year-old executive negotiated more than 260,000 square feet of retail space in 2015, according to RKF. In the first half of 2016, he set a personal record with 43 lease deals. One of his biggest transactions of the past two years was signing the Gap and Old Navy to a combined 79,000-square-foot space at 1514 Broadway in Times Square in June 2015. Schuster was born in Israel and moved to Manhattan at 10 years old. He studied marketing and finance at Tulane University in New Orleans. After his college graduation, a family friend took him to ICSC’s RECon convention in Las Vegas, where he was drawn to real estate. He spent six months at the New York commercial brokerage the Lansco Corporation and moved over to RKF in 2001.
6:15 a.m. I wake up in a rental building on the Upper West Side and take my dog, Charlie Parker Schuster, a Pekingese-beagle mix, for a 25-minute walk at Riverside Park. This is the only time of the day I’m not attached to the iPhone. It’s a way of clearing my head before I start the day.
7 a.m. I leave home before my two-year-old daughter, Olivia, wakes up, which makes me sad. She has asked me not to go to work. My wife, Nichole, stays home with her. Nichole and I met at RKF, when she was a project manager.
7:20 a.m. I get off the 1 subway at Times Square and I walk. I stop at Pret a Manger, my client, for a yogurt with pine nuts and an iced coffee. I was in London the week before the Brexit announcement to meet with them. They have more than 150 locations in London and are nearing 50 locations in the New York area. We’ve done about 25 of them.
7:30 a.m. I arrive at the office and usually run a meeting with my 15-person team, in which we plan the day. I spend a lot of my time on existing clients. But we also figure out pitches and who we’re going after next.
9 a.m. Over the next nine hours, my day is all over the place. Sometimes I’m on a site tour all day, and others I’m in the office all day. A partner and I might get driven in a company car from tours on Long Island to the outer boroughs to Manhattan.
10:30 a.m. I make about 15 calls a day with landlords — just updating them and going over deals. When you’re first starting in this business, deals are thrilling. As you get older, there’s more a sense of relief if they get done.
12:30 p.m. I look at lunch as a meeting time. Five out of five days, I have a business lunch — often at a secret sushi place in Midtown, or at the Dining Club at Rockefeller Center, where I am a member. I can go for a quick chopped lunch or a full-on steak. I regularly meet with Jennifer Rondholz, who runs real estate for the Gap, and Yaron Jacobi of Premier Equities, a landlord I represent on a lot of stuff.
2 p.m. We recently gave coffee retailer La Colombe a tour of their next few potential sites. All of their NYC locations have been Downtown, but they’re getting ready to open a new store on West 40th Street, near Bryant Park, this fall. The tone of a site tour can vary widely based on the client. With some retailers, I’ll wear shorts because that’s accepted. On the other hand, I have meetings with some landlords where I’ve never not worn a tie.
4 p.m. We scope out emerging retail corridors like the Bowery, which is what all the retailers are talking about. It’s a little more cutting-edge, so we’ve seen A.P.C. and Phillip Lim open up. From a retailer’s perspective, what matters is where sales are happening. Mispricing assets is a common mistake. I’m often telling landlords numbers they may not want to hear, especially when I’m pitching them. There are competing brokers who are feeling nervous about the market, and a smart broker takes advantage of that.
5:30 p.m. Sometimes, in the late afternoon I get to break away, and I go to the weekly RKF softball game whenever I can. I’m absolutely atrocious at softball, but I’m there for morale. Yaron Jacobi and I recently watched the Belgium-Wales soccer game at his apartment on the Upper East Side. I was rooting for Belgium, which lost.
7 p.m. I leave the office, and three or four nights a week I go right into dinner and drinks. Dinner is where I usually go big. One of my favorites is Corkbuzz, a wine bar in Union Square. I try not to go three days without seeing my kid, who goes to sleep at 7:30 p.m. On nights I get home early, I give her a bath, read her a book and watch “The Mind of a Chef.” I love learning about different foods. I’m not a good cook at all. The last thing I made for the family was a Shrimp Fra Diavolo pasta. It came out bland.
11:30 p.m. On nights I get home late, I take Charlie for a walk and pass out.