Suzy Yengo Has a Yen for Comedy and Is a Go-Getter

Catch a Rising Star President Used to Run Jewelry Store in Beach Haven When a Teen
By RICK MELLERUP | Aug 30, 2012

When Suzy Yengo was 15 she was managing a jewelry store, the Turquoise Teepee, in Beach Haven. Now she’s the part-owner, soon to be full-owner, of the Catch a Rising Star Comedy Club chain.

The obvious question is: How did a girl from Jersey City and Long Beach Island become the owner of a chain that bears one of the most famous names in comedy?

Well, first of all, it must be realized that Yengo was always a go-getter.

“I had a baby-sitting business when I was 11,” said Yengo. “I went into sales at the Turquoise Teepee at 14, I was the manager at 15. In 2006 my partner Craig Neier (whom she met on LBI) and I bought Catch a Rising Star.”

OK, so what happened in the meantime?

“In between,” Yengo said, “I went to Boston University and majored in public relations. I came back home to Jersey City – I still live in the house I grew up in – and worked as a fundraiser for places such as St. Clare’s Hospital in New York and the Bronx Zoo, where I was in charge of corporate fundraising and special events. One day there was an ad in The New York Times for a special events coordinator for the Tavern on the Green. I called, had an interview and got the job. I was 23 years old. I was there 18 years.

That’s quite the gig for a 23-year-old. Tavern on the Green, which closed on New Year’s Eve of 2009 and became a visitor center and gift shop run by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (it is now closed and undergoing extensive renovations to reopen again as a restaurant), was one of the most popular and distinctive eateries in the Big Apple from 1934 through 2009. In 2007 it had gross revenues of $38 million, taken in from more than 500,000 visitors, making it the second-highest grossing independent restaurant in the United States. Located in Central Park near Central Park West and West 66th Street, the landmark had several dining rooms, including the famous Crystal Room which overlooked an adjacent garden.

Tavern on the Green was a favorite with many celebrities over the years including NYC Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, Fay Wray, Grace Kelly and John Lennon, who was a neighbor of the restaurant’s owner in the late 1970s.

The restaurant also hosted numerous special events. It was a favorite location for Broadway producers to hold opening night parties. The Tavern has a hugely popular spot for the famous or merely well-to-do to hold wedding receptions and 21st birthday parties. Finally, the Tavern, which is located on the finish line of the New York City Marathon, used to hold a “Barilla Marathon Eve Dinner,” a pasta-fest attended by 10,000, repeat, 10,000, people!

Yengo took a year off from the Tavern on the Green to attend New York Law School specializing in entertainment law. But she must have done a good job at the Tavern.

“Warner (LeRoy, who owned the restaurant from 1976 until his death in 2001 – Lennon’s neighbor) called me and said, ‘You have to come back.’ Let’s say he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

The next such offer came from a former waiter at the Tavern.

“He asked me to come and see his show in Boston, the Chippendales Revue. The waiter and his boyfriend were the opening act. I ended up managing the Chippendales tour of Europe in 2004. It was amazing. In Europe they are like rock stars. I was with the Chippendales for a year and a half.”

Upon her return to America, Yengo received a phone call from Stan Bernstein of Catch a Rising Star and “he asked if I was interested in a partnership. I became a small investor. A few years later he passed away. I was the person most capable of taking over due to my experience.”

Catch a Rising Star has clubs in Providence, Princeton and Reno. And, of course, there’s the partnership between Surflight and CARS. The Garden State is the Jersey Girl’s focus.

“My goal is to have the biggest comedy footprint in New Jersey,” said Yengo.

The impresario loves the community support she’s getting in Beach Haven, all the businesses that allow her to put up her seemingly ever-present handbills, the fans that come out for her shows. Show business may seem glamorous, but she’ll tell you it is also a lot of hard work, driving around the Island sticking coming attraction signs into the ground, talking up her shows.

Then there are the comedians. Some, she said, are nice. Others, well, aren’t so nice – “do you know who I am!”

The business, she said, has changed even in the relatively short time she’s been in it.

“There are less clubs than there were six years ago and more chains. There are things besides comedy, such as hypnotist shows, mentalist shows.”

The spots for a young comedian to be noticed still haven’t changed since Rick Newman opened the original Catch a Rising Star in New York in 1972. You still want to work the Big Apple or Los Angeles to hopefully impress a talent scout or somebody looking to create a sitcom.

“In New York or LA,” Yengo said, “comics work for a little or nothing.”

She’s not in the find-a-rising-star business but rather tries to bring established stars to LBI. Still, she tries to keep current.

“The best place to find the hottest new talent is the Comedy Cellar in New York and the Ice House in LA.”

So, who are some of the “rising stars” of today?

“Some of the people who are receiving the most attention,” she said, “are Thomas Dale, Ben Hague, Adam Kerr and Corey Rodrigues.”

From the Turquoise Tepee to Catch a Rising Star, what a long, strange trip it’s been.

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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