Danielle Billera lives and breathes restaurants. An eye for trendsetting concepts combined with administrative and financial savvy make her one of New York City’s most successful restaurateurs.
Billera graduated from Gettysburg College in 1987 with a Bachelor of Arts in English. Inspired by her father, a restaurateur for more than 35 years, she enrolled in a culinary and management training program at the New York Restaurant School. An internship at the Grand Hyatt New York led to a position as assistant manager at the Crystal Fountain, one of the hotel’s most popular eateries. Shortly thereafter, she moved to Trumpets, the Grand Hyatt’s fine dining room.
An opening for Reservations Manager at the celebrated Rainbow Room captured Billera’s interest in 1990. She took the job, deftly accommodating the establishment’s exclusive clientele. Rainbow Room owner and restaurant mogul Joe Baum recognized Billera’s talent and asked her to become his personal assistant. She accepted, adapting immediately to his 24/7 lifestyle. She didn’t care about the long hours, “The insight into Baum’s empire was worth every minute,” she says.
Billera left her mentor in 1991 to work with creative pioneer Shimon Bokovza at New York City’s Amazon Village and the Yellowfin Restaurant at the Amazon in Sag Harbor, New York. Displaying the breadth of her skills, Billera joined the team as an Event Planner, but eventually assumed the role of General Manager. Both venues boasted open-air dining and hugely popular nightclubs.
In 1993, Billera focused on event planning and took a job at Club Expo, a Times Square nightclub located in Henry Miller’s Theatre. Under the direction of Matthew Johnson, she was soon promoted to General Manager and, together, they made Club Expo one of Manhattan’s hottest nightspots.
Following Club Expo in 1998, Billera merged her business acumen with Bokovza’s avant-garde conceptual and creative capabilities, and Johnson’s command of nightclub operations and networking to conceive the glamorous Kit Kat Klub. Billera acted as Controller of the Times Square theater-nightclub, which hosted the four-time Tony Award-winning revival production of Cabaret, with Sam Mendes as Director. The Kit Kat Klub offered food, beverages and merchandise during the show, and after the performance, the Klub opened to the public as a nightclub with burlesque entertainment and dancing.
At this point, Billera, Bokovza and Johnson acted on the powerful partnership they had formed, establishing a restaurant management group, which later became Samba Brands Management (2012), with the mission of presenting cutting-edge projects, shaping industry trends and providing memorable experiences for critics, media and food aficionados alike.
Under Billera’s financial and administrative supervision, the trio introduced their first concept, SUSHISAMBA, to New York City in 1999. Since then, the Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian restaurant has evolved into a most sought after destination for cuisine, culture, music and design. There are currently four locations: Miami Beach (2001), Las Vegas (in The Shoppes at The Palazzo, 2008), London (2012) and Amsterdam (2017). All locations continue to receive critical acclaim, vivacious crowds and media attention. Along with a steady growth in establishments, the brand’s spirit is showcased via its dynamic website, official musical compilation and numerous internationally renowned events, including Graffiti Gone Global, SUSHISAMBA’s street art exhibition running parallel to Art Basel Miami Beach.
In January 2010 with more than a decade of SUSHISAMBA’s success, SBM partners, Billera, Bokovza and Johnson introduced SUGARCANE raw bar grill. The 4,200-square-foot restaurant launched in Miami’s then-emerging Midtown District. SUGARCANE raw bar grill has enjoyed a great amount of critical acclaim since opening, including being named a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant at the prestigious 2011 James Beard Awards.
The three partners introduced Duck & Waffle in August of 2012, located directly above SUSHISAMBA on the 40th floor. Inspired by broad European and British influences and spirit, Duck & Waffle encourages a convivial experience for guests through its array of dishes designed for sampling and sharing. In December 2013, Billera and SBM partners debuted Bocce, which brings authentic Italian cuisine including wood oven pizzas and house-made pastas to Midtown Miami.
In the spring of 2017 Billera and partners launched Duck & Waffle Local, a chef-curated, fast casual restaurant featuring a duck-driven menu inspired by the Duck & Waffle restaurant and its signature dish. With several new locations and exciting brands currently in development, the new ventures are sure to keep both guests and tastemakers alike captivated, excited and inspired.