Ricky Lemann: Yeah, mine's got about 30 years on yours. I didn't realize it when I bought the house, but it actually doesn't fit in the garage. It's 18 feet 6 inches long, which makes it about 4 inches too long.
JH: I guess I've got more important things to do than sit around and measure my car. Anyway, let's get this started. So Ricky, you used to be in the restaurant business. And that's how we met; we worked at Lucky Cheng's together. How'd you get involved in that?
RL: The owner was an old friend, and I lived with her and worked with her in New York. When she decided to open a Lucky Cheng's down here, she came to the best. (laughs)
JH: And you knew where to scare up some drag queens?
RL: That was actually a big problem, finding staff down here. We had some Asians, but very few. The rest of the staff was not Asian, which was a first.
JH: As you and I both know, in the restaurant business you have to attend to every detail. How does that translate into the real estate business?
RL: Oh, it absolutely was the foundation for my success in real estate, because it really is a service industry, and a lot of agents don't realize it's a service industry.
JH: Okay, you can stop quoting from your Web site now. Please.
RL: Was I really? No, but I'm serious. My phone is on 24/7, and I work seven days a week. Every now and then I get a lucky day off, but most of the time it's all work.
JH: Why did you switch from the restaurant business to real estate?
RL: Because I was getting older. The hours were getting later. I had steered away from restaurants towards the end and did mostly lounges and clubs. I just got tired of staying up so late, honestly. I was ready. It had been like 13 years, three different states, and six or seven different places. I mean, I was ready. My friends thought it was a very pedestrian thing to do. They were shocked that I would leave something as glamorous. But it's really not what people think. It's a lot of long hours.
JH: Come on, Ricky! You mean you didn't feel like Cary Grant at 2 a.m. getting your hands dirty counting the change at the end of the night?
RL: (rolling eyes) Right. But people don't see all that. And it's all about perception. They had recently done that thing in Gentlemen's Quarterly, and there was a shot of me in this Dolce & Gabbana suit surrounded by all these hot women. It was perceived as a fun and kind of sexy lifestyle, but it's not.
JH: You're a money dresser, Ricky. Everybody knows that. Very well put together. Is that something you spend a lot of time doing every day?
RL: About two minutes.
JH: Two minutes? Wow. Do you have a person who does your makeup or ...
RL: No. I just take literally like two minutes to get dressed in the morning.
JH: I've stood in your closet, which is pretty uh ...
JH: Maybe by your standards. But it's quite an impressive display of designer names. You obviously consider your wardrobe to be crucial.
RL: I actually like to shop. I don't have much time to shop, but I enjoy shopping.
JH: Are there any fashion trends that bother you right now? For instance, I find the trend that men don't tuck in their shirts to be really lazy and ridiculous like a fashion trend that came about to accommodate men who don't have time to tuck their shirts in.
RL: Well, I have to say, a guayabera I wouldn't tuck.
JH: Right, but it has to be the appropriate shirt.
RL: You know, I never criticize whatever that look of the moment is, because in my day, I had some very "out there" kind of looks. You didn't know me back then. But it's like when someone gets older and says, "I can't believe these kids today!" I never say that; I just don't wear it. What I think is unattractive is when a man will not accept his age and wears clothes inappropriate for whatever his body has become or something he's not young enough to wear. The other little pet peeve I have is a suit that doesn't have a vent either in the back or in the sides. I don't care for closed vent coats that are now out of style but people still wear them.
JH: Who are some of your favorite designers?
RL: I like some sort of obscure designers like Alfred Dunhhill.
JH: Like the cigarettes? They make suits?
RL: Yeah. I also like the premium Polo brands, purple label anything that's really nicely made. I love Ermenegildo Zegna. I like a lot of traditional shoes. Of course I'm going to love some handmade, bespoke pair. You know you can order ridiculous shoes. But I do have a pair of Ferragamo alligator loafers that I really like. I believe you polished them the other night when I was having dinner at Lilette.
JH: Yeah, I was going to ask you. I know that generally, in the act of sale, you'd make people kiss your ring as they got their check. But now you've graduated that into polishing the Ferragamo's. How did that start?
RL: I believe you started that one. (both laughing) I have to say that everyone at my table was very impressed, and maybe a little confused. But back to shoes, I also like well, we both like two-tone shoes in the summer. Allen-Edmonds. They used to be hard to find. Now I find that people are making them again. I love a spectator. I have probably five or six pair of tone-on-tone spectators.
JH: You seem to show an appreciation for the past, in terms of style. What eras of design are you drawn to for your home?
RL: It varies. I take my cue from the architecture. I work with the space. Like if I ended up in a center-hall [cottage] in the Garden District, it would look like a center-hall in the Garden District. Hopefully it would be a really tasteful and sort of interesting take on that. You've been in two of my homes, and they're vastly different. I always end up liquidating quite a bit of furniture between moves. I move about every two years. Usually it's a whole new look.
JH: You're a great salesman, and you've sold me a house before. I remember when you took me into one house, and it was kind of a dump. You referred to it as "ghetto fabulous." Are there certain design or decor trends that you see in houses that really bother you?
RL: I can't answer that because it would get me into trouble.
JH: Right. So whose house was that?
JH: Are there certain things in houses that are a real turnoff to buyers? Or when you go to sell a house, is there something that tends to be a sticking point?
RL: It could be anything. Some people want big closets. Some people have to have a deluxe bathroom.
JH: Is there anything that you tell the seller to get rid of?
RL: Sometimes if the house is too cluttered, I'll ask them to edit, you know, to get them the better price.
JH: Do you think a house sells better furnished or unfurnished?
RL: It depends on the house and the furniture.
JH: If I went into a house that was unfurnished, I would think that means that these people need to sell their house a little more than the next guy who's still living there because they've moved out obviously, and they've bought something else.
RL: That can be, but you don't know people's specific financial situations. It could mean that the people bought the house 30 years ago, and they don't owe a dime on it and they can wait until hell freezes over. But yes, I'd say 70 percent of the time that's the truth.
JH: Would you say you're a top or a bottom sales person in your office?
JH: Top salesman in your office. Not a bottom salesman?
JH: What do you think people say about you when you're not around?
RL: "He's crazy." People think it's crazy that I move every two years. And they probably say I work too much. And I have friends that are afraid of my spending patterns. I try to tell them that when I get to be old, I don't want some fancy diaper-changing scenario in a fancy retirement home. They can put me in a welfare house for all I care. You need to live well while you're able. I'm a terrible saver. I live for today. I live like the French.
JH: What would people be surprised to know about Ricky Lemann?
RL: Maybe that I was a painter? You'd never know it, because I sold all the paintings and don't have time to do it anymore. They were abstract, oil on canvas. It came out of an obsession at the time. I was obsessed with circles because they're complete, and I'm not.
JH: You've done other things, too. Weren't you involved in producing fashion layouts for magazines? Esquire? Glamour?
RL: Yes. When I lived in New York, I knew people who worked as assistants to David LaChapelle and other big photographers. After I moved down here, guys like Troy [House] and John [Huba] became hotshot photographers in their own right. So they would come to New Orleans to shoot. I coordinated things locally. I'd do the props, styling, hire the seamstress. It's one of my ADD careers. I did it as a favor to them. I liked it, but it didn't pay much money, and it was stressful. They were killer spreads, though. I was happy with the way they turned out.
JH: Any guilty pleasures?
RL: Yeah, that pistachio profiterole with hot fudge sauce on your menu. Dessert really is my indulgence.
JH: What makes you nervous?
RL: Business. I worry that I'm not perfect. I'm never ever satisfied. I need everything to be as good as it possibly can be.
JH: You always seem to be doing really well. I've talked to realtors who, since Katrina, say they aren't doing a whole lot of business. And you always seem to be doing really well and actually selling houses. How do you account for that?
RL: I just think there's a lot of movement.
JH: But bring it back to Ricky Lemann. How does Ricky Lemann make it happen? What's different about you than the next guy? I think it's that you have more people who want to buy a house and use you as an agent. You get a lot of referrals.
RL: That, and I'm willing to work longer and harder. And I care. I do care what happens to people. Some people don't care. They only care until the closing. I'm not looking for one transaction. I'm looking for a lifetime relationship. There's nothing I can do about those people who for no reason at all go and use a substandard agent, kick me to the side and ... (laughs)
JH: And they're flying coach, right? Why fly coach when you can go first class with Ricky Lemann?
JH: Where do you go to really impress a client?
RL: Lilette. As you've seen, I've closed many a deal there. You've seen the contract come out.
JH: Yes. Always pause between entrees and dessert; and bus that table, because Ricky needs some room to write out his contracts.
JH: What do you think is the No. 1 thing that needs to happen in New Orleans that hasn't happened, that should be paid attention to or that needs to happen faster?
RL: There are so many things. But I guess if we could conquer schools and crime, everything else would take care of itself. I mean, big business would come. If we could improve schools and have our crime rate plummet, I think that everything else would follow.
JH: How did you get the nickname Pickles?
RL: In seventh grade, I'd bring pickles to school in my lunch bag.
JH: So you have an affinity for pickles?
RL: I do.
JH: What's your ideal woman?
RL: Lynda Martin. I begged her to have my children, but she moved to Miami.
JH: What's your ideal man?
RL: I like truck drivers and quarterbacks.
JH: Ricky is single?
RL: More than. Taking applications.
JH: What's your best pickup line to a girl?
RL: I'm gay. They always want what they can't have. Trust me, I know.
Ricky Lemann, 460-6340; www.rickylemann.com
Lilette Restaurant, 3637 Magazine St., 895-1636; www.liletterestaurant.com