Customer Fulfills Bartender's Dream

Friday, June 16th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOSTON (AP) — Gwen Butler had heard it all before when a rich businessman walked into the bar and started chatting up the vivacious bartender, telling her she should be running a place of her own and that he'd like to help.

Always, in Butler's experience, it was an empty promise. Usually, just a worn-out pickup line.

But this businessman, Swiss financier Erich Sager, wasn't kidding — and Butler now has more than $2.4 million in the bank to prove it. She is quitting her job and planning to open a restaurant in September.

``I still don't believe it,'' she said. ``I think if I really wrapped my mind around it, I would really flip out.''

Butler, 29, waited on Sager in February at the Federalist, a fancy restaurant in Boston's Beacon Hill section. Sager, in town on business, walked in for a late lunch, but the kitchen was closed. Butler persuaded the chef to fix him something.

Sager, sipping a 1979 Mouton Rothschild Bordeaux that goes for $500 a bottle, was appreciative, and the two started talking.

``I was in a rambunctious mood,'' Butler said. ``The Federalist is a very stuffy bar. They used to tell me, `Don't smile so much, don't laugh so much,' but that day I didn't care.''

Sager liked what he saw. He told her she should open a place of her own, and invited her to meet him for a drink to discuss it.

Skeptical at first, Butler accepted the invitation and told Sager about her dream.

``He said, `Well, how much?''' Butler recalled. ``And I said if I was going do it and do it and do it right, at least $2 million. And I thought that was going to be the end of the conversation.''

It wasn't. Sager asked for a business plan. Butler, along with friend and future business partner Chris Rapczynski, wrote one up. They said they would need $50,000 in seed money. Sager had it wired to their bank.

Butler — who had been received similar offers of help from strangers, only to be hurt and disappointed — finally was convinced she wasn't being duped.

Eventually, $2.4 million arrived, more than she had asked for. Butler has a 25 percent stake in the restaurant, Rapczynski 15 percent and Sager 60 percent.

The establishment will be called Zita, after the patron saint of waiters and waitresses — a nod to Sager, her own patron.

Sager, 42, is an asset manager who sits on several corporate boards. According to The Boston Globe, he is married with four children.

He was on the road and there was no answer on his cell phone Friday, but he told the Globe why he backed the venture: ``It's her. She's the spirit. She's incredible. You trust her immediately, and you start talking with her and realize she's very bright.''