On Board with superyacht owner and businessman John Rosatti
by Cecile Gauert
After he sold his last yacht, the 49.37 metre ChristensenRemember When, John Rosatti was convinced that he was done with yachting. Forever. Why? “I was working on [his retaurant chain] BurgerFi and working on my car dealerships. Every time I came on the boat, I worked on my computer, had a business meeting and I did not enjoy the boat.” The man who once owned a yacht called Nice N’ Easy works constantly. “People think that I just live on a boat and I have a great life. I do have a great life but in my mind and in my business I work 24/7. I wake at night thinking about my business. Building things is my life.”
It’s been that way since he was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, New York. His parents worked hard for a living and, at the age of 13, he was pitching in to help. He tinkered with cars and with his grandfather’s 7.9 metre fishing boat. By his mid-20s he had his own business, a body shop. And the rest, well, is business history. A father of three grown-up children, he says he’d love to pass the baton to the next generation and his son, Adam, and his daughter, Angela, already work in the car and restaurant businesses.
What keeps him busy these days, aside from eight car dealerships in New York and two fine-dining Italian restaurants called Vic & Angelo’s and gastropub The Office in South Florida, is the rapidly expanding fast food franchise BurgerFi. One of the most popular items at The Office is an $18 burger and fries, so he thought he could do well with a moderately priced and tasty burger. It seems he was right. Started a little over five years ago, the hamburger chain is now worldwide. “Only two per cent of franchises ever make it to 100,” he says. “We have 83 open and over 200 sold.”
Recent investors include Jamie Wood, son of Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones, who snapped up 10 locations for the UK. Other locations outside the US include Mexico and Panama. Italy, birthplace of Rosatti’s grandparents, is still on the to-do list. The burger chain is growing as a healthy, fresh and all-natural option in a crowded market of cheap meat sandwiches. “It’s made fresh daily. People are being more healthy now,” says Rosatti. A fit 72 year old himself, he walks five miles every day. Still, that regimen of work and fitness, his two private jets, fleet of cars and 160mph MTI catamaran did not quite fulfil him. He was without a yacht for a few months, having found a buyer for Remember When, who kept the yacht’s crew and captain. “At first I was happy,” he says, “but then I missed the weekends; I missed being on the boat with the crew and having things to do. I had to get back in.”
Just around the time he decided to look for a replacement, Peter Thompson, a broker with Worth Avenue Yachts, came to him with the idea of buying Lady Lau. “I had never been on a Codecasa. I had never owned one, never seen one,” says Rosatti. And the yacht was bigger than he intended to buy. He was really looking for a 54.85 metre, which would fit in a slip he had at North Cove Marina near his New York apartment. But then he saw the 64.92 metre, full-displacement yacht with five decks, beautiful joinery and a massive dome that he loves, and there was no going back. “[Peter] ruined me,” he says jokingly.
Built in 2010 by the Italian shipyard for a businessman from Asia, the boat never left the Mediterranean and was in pristine condition. The decision to buy was quick. “It took me one minute,” he says. What took longer were the negotiations; the deal finally went through a few months after he made his offer. Rosatti was then able to enjoy the yacht, renamed Double Down, in the Mediterranean. Though he had never met the yacht’s former owner in person, Rosatti sent him a letter to say how much he liked the boat. “I wanted to let him know I appreciated what he had built,” he says.
Initially, Rosatti had no intention of changing the vessel since she was in excellent condition. Yet today, the upper saloon, part of the owner’s deck, where he likes to work and keep up with the news on a massive TV screen, looks quite different to what it did just a few months ago. As a builder, he could not help himself – he had to add his touch. He rented a yard in Fort Pierce, Palm Beach, and hired Taylor Lane Yacht and Ship and Buddy Haak, whom he knew from racing days, to do upgrades and repaint. For the interior, he called upon Evan K Marshall. “There was no art on this yacht, not even a lamp,” says Rosatti. Gone is an ornate silk sofa with Chinese motif. “It was a beautiful couch,” Rosatti says, just not his taste.
Marshall found frames and statues for niches and new, rich, yet more neutral, fabrics for all soft furnishings; shimmering silvers and blues now play off the high-gloss burr veneer and gold accoutrements. They provide a lovely setting for the Steinway grand piano, at the entrance to the main saloon from the aft deck, on which the rapper Vanilla Ice once played Lean On Me. Rosatti captured the moment on his phone, where he also has pictures of himself with former baseball star Mike Piazza.
Much of what was has been done is not immediately visible, including details such as replacing wood shelves inside cabinets with ventilated electronic racks. The pièce de résistance, however, is the engine room. “I did my thing to it,” says Rosatti, who found the original to be dingy and hated the fluorescent lights and colours.
Now the mechanical space gleams with new lights, fresh white paint and chrome finishes on the floor, the engines and the casing around the generators, among other places. “You can walk through here with your bare feet and go back on my white carpet and not make a stain,” says Rosatti. The huge lazarette received similar treatment.
Double Down is his first full-displacement yacht, one of the reasons he went outside the US to buy. The fact that few yards in his homeland have facilities to build 60.96 metre-plus yachts in steel is part of why they’re not doing so well, in his opinion. “Two hundred feet is really big to build in composite,” he says and, while he is convinced of the strength of the material, he believes Europeans particularly are tempted to go with the more traditional steel. He’s always looked at the future and resale value. Although Double Down was at recent boat shows in the US, she is not for sale – at least not yet. “I want to put her in charter,” he says. Four to five weeks a year would be ideal, and he’s already received enquiries for the voluminous yacht with nine cabins. Still, there is likely to be a next boat some day and he’s looking into it. I prompt him a little and he gets up from his favourite armchair and walks around the bar to grab a portfolio lying on the counter. He flips it open to a profile rendering of a sleek, modern-looking 72 metre designed by Frank Mulder. “Isn’t she beautiful?” he asks.
He really likes the craftsmanship on his first Codecasa, but he will be considering various shipyards when he’s ready to build. He’s said in the past he’s never lost money on a yacht. It still holds true today. “I buy them right and I sell them right,” he says. “But I don’t count the money and time I put into a boat.”
There is, of course, the cost of maintaining the yacht and the crew. These are some of the reasons he is looking to charter Double Down. He employs 17 crew, including a masseuse and two engineers. He likes to recruit the captain and engineers himself “because I’m nuts with the engineering”. Isn’t this different for him, I ask, to have such a large yacht and crew? “I can never find them anywhere,” he says. “This is such a big boat that you can lose 17 people.”
Later, as we tour the yacht, we walk into the crew mess, a huge, well-appointed space, where we find most of the crew assembled, enjoying some down time and freshly baked chocolate brownies. “So this is where you all are,” he says laughing. “I saw your new car, sir. Wow!” chimes one.
With yachting and cars still making him happy, Rosatti, thankfully, appears to be here to stay.
Pictures courtesy of Billy Black