Of all the weird and wacky stories coming across our desks about Sheepshead Bay’s quirky business scene, this is easily my favorite. Rasputin Restaurant, at 2670 Coney Island Avenue, has reopened with new ownership and a new name: Romanoff Restaurant.
Like Rasputin, it will be a Russian-themed banquet and dance hall, doling out mounds of salmon roe for its ritzy clientele.
But why is it funny? Well, as most who follow this site know, Rasputin was shuttered in May after federal authorities seized the assets of its owner, Michael Levitis, who they’ve charged with fraud in relation to his side business, Mission Settlement Agency. He is accused of swindling clients out of millions of dollars in charges for debt settlement services never rendered.
In choosing “Romanoff” as their name, the new owners are tipping their hat – perhaps unintentionally – to the whole mess.
Romanoff, you see, was the surname of Michael Romanoff, a.k.a. Prince Michael Dimitri Alexandrovich Obolensky-Romanoff, but, actually, a man born in Lithuania as Hershel Geguzin. Romanoff established the famed Hollywood venue Romanoff’s, a beacon for L.A.’s elite in the 1940s and 1950s.
But Romanoff wasn’t who he said he was. Hardly a prince, he was one of America’s most legendary conmen. After traveling the world under different identities, he eventually settled in Hollywood and became a social gadfly, regaling stars with tales of his phony claim to Russian royalty, claiming to be a nephew of Tsar Nicholas II.
Ultimately, he was deported to France to serve time for fraud.
So, opening up on the site of another restaurant that was shuttered when its Eastern European owner was charged with fraud, and dubbing it Romanoff, the name of another Eastern European restaurateur charged with fraud… yeah, that’s funny.
Unfortunately, we doubt the owners had this in mind when they chose the name.
Regardless, good luck, Romanoff.