Husband and wife entrepreneurs Kathy Clark and Bradley Rosenberg have rarely been in this country the past couple of years; they are still on a sailing trip around the world after Clark sold her software company, Landmark Systems, in 2002. Philanthropist Mario Morino now lives in Cleveland. And just what is former AOL president Bob Pittman doing these days?
But walk into the tony dining room at the Tysons Corner Palm Restaurant and they are all still here. Because the Tysons Palm opened in November 1999, the colorful caricatures are a reminder of who was hot at that moment -- witness the grinning technology executives.
Less stuffy than the Tower Club and more business-like than the local diners, the Palm, with its white-tablecloth and wood-floor dining room, became a "Cheers"-like establishment for the tech elite. Now these pictures, the kind that grace all the chain's restaurants, have become dated. And they spawn more than a few "Where are they now?" conversations.
It doesn't matter if a person has lost his job, gone to jail or moved, says Palm general manager Tim Seymour, who has been running the show since its opening. The restaurant does not erase faces when someone becomes irrelevant or controversial or even when he passes away. "Once they're up, they're up," says Seymour.
Well, there has been one exception. About 18 months ago, says Seymour, a disgruntled spouse going through a divorce painted over the picture of his wife next to his picture.
Even John Sidgmore, former WorldCom chief executive who died last year and was a regular at the restaurant, still looks down on diners with a huge smile.
Meanwhile, customers also play the face game. Seymour points, for example, to Rick Kay, who sold his software company OTG for $403 million in 2002 and has since been very, very quiet, presumably taking it easy. "Some of these guys are out now but they'll be back," says Seymour. "They're waiting for their next shot."
In fact, he can tell when it seems like a project or employment prospect is heating up because of the increase in lunches. "Charlie Thomas is trying to get something going every day," he says of Thomas, whose telecommunications company Net2000 crashed and was sold but who has come back recently running a private investment bank called Claris Capital. Same with Roger Mody, says Seymour. Mody, unusually, has his face enshrined not once but twice, in both the main dining room and over the bar.
Mody, 40, intends to be one of those faces people remember for more than one company. He sold the government systems integrator he founded, Signal Corp., for $227 million in 2002, when he personally owned about half of the company. The deal was made over dinner at the Palm. In the contract, Mody agreed to a non-compete clause, which ends on Sept. 24, 2005. He plans to start a new company in the Washington area soon thereafter, also in the federal information technology industry. "I want to start something again," says Mody, who recently remarried and has bought an oceanfront beach getaway in Myrtle Beach and a jet to get there and back. "I'm getting my batteries recharged."
Mody, too, loves to play the Palm face game with his lunch companions. "It conjures up all sorts of memories," he says. "This guy was worth a billion, this guy or gal is no longer in business." These days, he says, expense account lunchers tend to be more federal contractors than the commercial types.
You can try to read the tea leaves from how often a person shows up, says Seymour, the manager. A former regular, MicroStrategy chief executive Michael Saylor, completely stopped lunching at the Palm, then resurfaced this past year, Seymour says. AOL's Ted Leonsis is in the restaurant all the time, he says, but he hasn't seen Steve Case in months. Most of the AOL executives have stopped coming.
Seymour says he pays attention to the news about corporate scandals but, true to the rule, even if somebody were sent to jail, he or she would not be taken down from the wall. Seymour jokes about having bars drawn over a face if it came to that.
While the customer base was 60 percent tech when the restaurant opened, now it's 60 percent not tech, he says. Who's coming now? Bankers, mortgage brokers, lawyers. The lawyers, he notes, seems to eat particularly well no matter what's going on, having shifted from IPOs to bankruptcies. "They'll catch you coming and going," Seymour says.
Of the 13 most recent faces to go up at the Palm, most are in law and real estate, including real estate agent Penny Yerks. Yerks's husband, Austin Yerks, an executive at Computer Sciences Corp., also got a spot, showing some techies are still going to the Palm.
Seymour says he adds about 30 new faces a year. While it's difficult to find free space in the downtown branch of the Palm, the Tyson's outpost still has plenty of openings next to movie stars like Julia Roberts, Antonio Banderas and Jack Nicholson. If there's another tech boom, Seymour is ready to meet the next wave of fresh faces and to welcome back the serial entrepreneurs.
Of the original tech boom crowd, Seymour says, several times a week you can still find April Young of Comerica Bank, banker to countless Internet start-ups, sitting at her favorite table, #1, underneath her picture. And, of course, Mody is also here several times a week, eating his favorite New York strip Caesar salad for lunch or sipping Macallan 18-year-old reserve single-malt scotch in the evenings. These days, while still on sabbatical, Mody says, he goes to the Palm to listen to personal investment pitches or give advice to those running smaller companies. "It's nice to go in and see the same people," says Mody, meaning the wait staff these days, who he says have less turnover than the clientele.
The pictures strike some as a sign of how relatively quickly things have changed. "It's like you're going back in time," says Jim Garrettson, chief executive of TownHall, a teleconferencing firm in Vienna. Garrettson, who also runs a networking group called the Potomac Officers Club, says it's strange to have that feeling about a time not so long ago. "I have a hazy recollection of certain people. There are a lot fewer shining stars now."
Shannon Henry writes about Washington's technology culture every other Thursday. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.