Culture

Working Girl: In the Big City

San Pietro is a little Italian restaurant on East 54th Street between Madison and Fifth. New-ish and spiffy; a tiny bar, a massive fresh floral arrangement, the place is so small (29 tables). It has impeccable credentials. Gael Greene ate there a few months after it opened in late ’92 and pronounced it a winner. Four brothers by the name of Bruno, from Amalfi own and run the place. They’re very good at what they do, which also includes operating another restaurant, Sistina, on the Upper East Side.
The brothers Bruno’s expertise and cuisine more than adequately meet the standards of these well-fed and sophisticated palates. But what truly makes this simple restaurant unlike any other is a 30-ish, sexy, blue-eyed blonde, former model named Sonja Tremont. Miss Tremont eschews the word “hostess.” A graduate of F.I.T. with a Bachelor’s in marketing, high profile dining is her medium and marketing is what she does with it. Customers are “clients.”

On any given day, the client list of San Pietro might include John Gutfreund, Ronald Perelman, Alfred Taubman, Howard Kaminsky, Carl Icahn, Nelson Peltz, Donald Trump, Alessandro Marchessini, David Koch and Joe Perella, often rubbing elbows and breaking bred all on the same day. It’s not an all-male club either. Deborah Norville, Barbara Walters, Andrea Eastman, Beatriz Santo Domingo, Donna Acquavella, Dawn Mello, Linda Wachner, and Martha Stewart are only a few of the prominent New York women who have had no trouble finding their way across the threshold.
They all know Sonja. And nighttimes they see her at the Grammys or the Red Cross Ball in Monaco (seated next to her pal Prince Albert) or at parties at Le Club or little dinners in East Side townhouses, or in Palm Beach, or the Irish Derby or at Larry Gagosian’s in Southampton, or in San Tropez. The girl gets around.

“When a lot of women come to the restaurant and they’re spending money and tipping for a table with a view, they’re getting background on a guy,” Sonja explains. “Is he married, single, divorced? A good guy? Not so good? A lot of times you go to a restaurant and meet a guy and don’t know who or what he is. They know they can get information from me. I always add that I don’t know if this is true but… Obviously if I’m 30 and still not married and working for a living I’m not swayed by fame and money but a lot of women are.”

Born and bred in Averill Park, a rural town outside Albany, New York, the maitresse d’hotel went to the local high school where she played tennis, basketball and led the cheerleading team. She was very popular in school but never in with any particular crowd, which she credits for her ability to blend and adapt easily with different groups of people.
Despite her good looks, she never thought she was attractive, but friends pushed her to join them in entering beauty contests. “I’d win Miss Congeniality. The closest I came to winning was First Runner-Up and that was because I was wearing a bikini and all the other girls were wearing one-piece bathing suits.

But it was that “win” that planted a seed for the future. “I won some money that could only be used toward college. I quit cheerleading at 14 to work for a dollar an hour cutting pizza on weekends.”
When she entered the local community college she worked three nights a week in a club called Charades in Albany to put herself through. “I had to wear a bunny costume.” Even then she had an eye for the business. “There were a lot of men with money who’d come from Saratoga, like the Arabs. I would spot them and make them my customers.” Saving her tips in a shoe-box, after two years, she had have enough to do the last two years at F.I.T. “I knew business and selling; and that the world was in New York City and I wanted to go.”

In New York in the mid-80s, she went to school, modeled (mainly furs) and soon found herself going around with rock stars like Billy Idol and Duran Duran. Then one day she met a handsome Italian boy her age and her life was transformed. “Pierre Francesco had green eyes, high cheekbones, gorgeous lips that curled up like Sly Stallone’s, and long blond hair.  He was very elegant and I was so impressed that he was interested in me, this tacky little girl from Albany.”
…(end of excerpt).

The article, in which she talked about her ambition as well as the men in her life—besides her “clients” at San Pietro—was very popular with readers, and well received. Although, Sonya’s employers were not thrilled. Very soon thereafter, she was terminated. Nevertheless, Sonja, characteristically undaunted and completely self-reliant, moved on to new projects.
In the following years of the 1990s, Sonja and I would run into each other from time to time. We never became what I would call “close friends” if only because both of us had very busy lives in our work. Despite the lapse of time between our connecting, she is one of those people whom once you’ve met, remains as familiar as an old friend. She’s what we used to call “upfront.” Time, troubles, and progress has not changed that about her. Somewhere around the end of the last century and the beginning of the new, I learned that she had married John Morgan, a great-grandson of Pierpont Morgan and son of a founder of Morgan Stanely, Henry Sturgis Morgan.

Around that time I ran into her at a gala benefitting Bierancourt, a chateau in France purchased in 1917 by Anne Morgan, the daughter of J. Pierpont and great-aunt of Sonja’s husband, where she ran a help organization for French non-combatants suffering from the hell and deprivation of World War I.

That night at the Bierancourt benefit, I asked Sonya about her marriage to Mr. Morgan who was more than thirty years her senior. She told me how she’d known him as a “client” at San Pietro, and one night a few years later, she had run into him at a cocktail party, In their conversation, she naturally addressed him as “Mr. Morgan” and he casually suggested she call him by his name…John. And from there a relationship ensued.

Their marriage introduced the girl from Averill Park to a new life of yachts and limousines, an island off the coast of Connecticut, a townhouse in New York and a social life consisting of his friends and her many friends and acquaintances. In a very real way, Sonja was in her glory, living out her talent as hostess and friend to many.

At the beginning of the new century, Sonja became a mother of a daughter, so named Quincy Adams Morgan, after John Morgan’s direct ancestors on his mother’s side—John Adams and John Quincy Adams, second and sixth Presidents of the United States. Quincy today is Sonja’s pride and joy, a student with a high mathematical aptitude and interest.

Several years ago, the Morgan marriage ended. There are two sides to every story of divorce, both of which are legitimate to the teller. However, characteristically Sonja moved on with regrets about the circumstances, but never a harsh word about her daughter’s father. Although this time she was much more in the public eye—as recorded in tabloids because of the May-December marriage, not to mention the famous name and fortune of her husband.

For the past six years, as the world knows, our Sonja has become a national celebrity in the hit BRAVO series of the The Real Housewives of New York City. Not having much time for television myself, and never having seen the popular show, recently I learned separately from two women friends, both of whom (in their mid-30s) mentioned that they watched the show religiously and that­—without my asking—Sonja was their favorite. Why? I asked. “Because she seems really nice, and real.” And, I could honestly reveal, she is. That’s our Sonja; I knew her when, and know her now.

Categories: Culture, Personalities