Michael (Buzzy) O’Keeffe was born and raised in New York City. Soon after graduating college and serving in the United States Army, he began his efforts to build a restaurant on the waterfront, which would combine three of his avocations; building, food, and being by the water. After twelve years of lengthy negotiations with the city of New York, he was given approval to create the city’s first waterfront restaurant. The River Café, located on the Brooklyn side of the East River, immediately by the Brooklyn Bridge, opened in June 1977. During his twelve year waiting period, he built and operated eight additional restaurants.
The River Café received the Parks Council Award in 1978, The Municipal Arts Society Award in 1979, and in 1980 was voted into the Restaurant Hall of Fame. It was selected by Gault Millau, the French culinary guide as one of the five best restaurants in New York. The restaurant was also awarded with the prestigious “Ivy Award of Distinction” from Restaurants & Institutions magazine. The River Café was awarded a star in the 2009-2012 Michelin Guide, received the Distinguished Restaurants of North America Award (DiRoNA) and yearly receives The “Wine Spectator Award of Distinction” from Wine Spectator magazine. It is consistently voted “Most Romantic Restaurant in America.”
The success of The River Café inspired the city to propose a similar development on the Manhattan waterfront. The Water Club, located on the East River at 30th Street, opened in 1982. Along with The River Café, The Water Club received the Distinguished Restaurants of North America Award. Mr. O’Keeffe designed, built and operated, for eighteen years, the Cafe at Grand Central Station – the first café in Grand Central – on the Vanderbilt Avenue Balcony of Grand Central. With the renovation of Grand Central Station, the Cafe had to close and Mr. O’Keeffe chose to move instead to Pershing Square at 42nd Street and Park Avenue rather than return to the terminal itself. It was yet another extreme challenge to build in this vast New York City Landmark, which is located under a roadway, over a railway, surrounded by major thoroughfares. The restaurant, Pershing Square Cafe received The Municipal Arts Society’s 1999 Preservation Award. The award was established to recognize outstanding examples of building restoration in the five boroughs. There is only one award given out each year.
In addition to creating numerous establishments over the past forty years, he has served as a consultant for many New York City restaurants and has been invited to speak about his innovative waterfront architectural designs for the 23rd Street Development Project at the International Symposium on Ocean Space Utilization held at Nihon University in Japan.
Mr. O’Keeffe has served on the Board of Directors of the Fire Safety Foundation, the Harbor Foundation of New York and New Jersey and Fordham Preparatory School. He is an active member of the New York State Restaurant Association and serves on the Board of Directors for the Manhattan Waterfront Alliance – last year accepting the “Hero of the Harbor Award.” He is an active board member of Audubon New York and The University of Limerick in Ireland. He has been honored with the Lincoln Award of Service at Lincoln Academy for boys in 2002, The Fordham College Alumni Achievement Award also in 2002 and the following year was honored with the Humanitarian Award by the Joseph Foundation. In 2006 he received “Man of the Year” award at the Prospect Park Alliance. Most recently, Mr. O’Keeffe was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters from St. Francis College.