Still, Mr. Fakahany did well for himself at Merrill, where his posts included chief financial officer and co-president. Last year, he won a $1.2 million arbitration award against the firm, which is now part of Bank of America, over his compensation. Since 2004, he has sold shares in Merrill that are valued at $13.1 million, according to Insider Score, which tracks stock sales of corporate insiders.
None of those figures take into account his salary and cash bonuses — including payouts in boom years, when Merrill seemed to be minting money as it plowed headlong into dicey mortgage investments.
Even at Merrill, Mr. Fakahany had a passion for good food. When clients and bankers complained about the food in the dining room, people looked to him to fix it.
“It was basic stuff,” he recalls. “You can’t serve a Caesar salad followed by a vol-au-vent. We needed more fish, and we dumped the steak and lamb.”
He also built a wine collection for Merrill, mostly of wines he was buying for himself. He says he rarely paid more than $100 a bottle. Merrill board members, he says, “were real foodies,” so he would offer to bring the wine to board dinners that, in the boom years, were held at the grand St. Regis hotel on Fifth Avenue, and the B.Y.O.B. policy saved Merrill thousands of dollars. After Merrill collapsed into the arms of Bank of America , executives at the new owner privately criticized the wine collection as excessive. Bank of America eventually sold it.
But before all of that, Mr. Fakahany often entertained Merrill clients at Fiamma in SoHo. It was there, in 2004, that he met Mr. White, Fiamma’s chef.
“I am a CNBC junkie,” says Mr. White, 40. “It was cool to talk to him, and I got to meet people like Stan O’Neal.”
Before long, Mr. White was asking Mr. Fakahany for business advice. One evening in late 2006, Mr. White rode a private elevator to the 32nd floor at Merrill Lynch and told Mr. Fakahany that he wanted to open a restaurant in Bernardsville, an upscale hamlet in New Jersey.
“I have 10 to 15 investors lined up,” Mr. White told him.
“I will do it,” Mr. Fakahany replied.
Mr. White was stunned.
“All of it,” Mr. Fakahany continued. “I don’t like to work with other partners.”
With that, Mr. Fakahany became a restaurant investor. He put up $1.2 million to open a restaurant called Due Terre. In February, it was converted into an Osteria Morini, similar to the one in SoHo.
Not long after that investment, Mr. Fakahany personally negotiated Mr. White’s contract with another restaurateur, Chris Cannon, who was looking for a chef for two Manhattan restaurants, L’Impero and Alto. Mr. Fakahany included clauses that would enable Mr. White to exit the venture early and to pursue other opportunities.
By 2007, however, things at Merrill were crashing down. That autumn, Mr. O’Neal resigned as chief executive. After Mr. O’Neal’s departure, Mr. Fakahany says, he knew he was a “dead man walking.” He resigned, and his last day came on Feb. 1, 2008. He had a 3 p.m. appointment that day to say goodbye to Gregory J. Fleming, then Merrill’s co-president.
Mr. Fakahany says he waited and waited, but that Mr. Fleming never showed up. At 6 p.m., he pulled on his blue Dior winter coat and walked home.
“And that is how my 21-year career at Merrill ended,” Mr. Fakahany says. (Mr. Fleming, now a president of Morgan Stanley, declined to comment.)
Mr. Fakahany received job offers on Wall Street. But he, Mr. White and Mr. Cannon were soon investing in Marea, and he decided to leave Wall Street for good.