Martha Stewart: Too Much of a Good Thing?

The review in the New York Times earlier this month was not as scathing as the one Food Network’s Flavortown fave Guy Fieri received a few years ago but the appraisal of Martha Stewart’s new restaurant in Las Vegas, the Bedford, was nonetheless pretty ugly.

And if you think you’re seeing Miss Martha in more places more times attaching her name to more things, it’s not your imagination. Now in her fifth decade of licensing herself out following her initial success in catering and event planning in suburban Connecticut, Stewart seems to be in a mad dash to milk every last drop out of her being, having turned 82 this past summer and certainly in the later stages of an amazing career.

The Las Vegas restaurant – officially the Bedford by Martha Stewart – was reviewed by Times restaurant critic Pete Wells who was careful to point out that Stewart neither owns nor is the chef at the place, located in the Paris Hotel. Wells called much of the cooking “between boring and careless” and ultimately concluded that the Bedford was “decent enough” but that it was also “ho-hum enough that it just might dim Ms. Stewart’s reputation for dazzling competence in everything she touches.

“If you happen to eat there,” he writes, “you will not be the first Las Vegas visitor to learn that the house always wins.”

Ouch.

Dazzling competence is in fact Stewart’s usual M.O. She took her early catering success and parlayed it into TV shows, a magazine and a home furnishings program for Kmart in the early 1990s that was reputed to have done over $1 billion in retail sales at its peak, making it the largest such program in the home business to that point and perhaps ever.

From those lofty days, her career hit some bumps. There was that whole prison thing that in hindsight seems pretty convoluted and hard to believe and the Kmart program gave away to smaller product offerings with Macy’s, Home Depot and any number of assorted retailers and manufacturers, in addition to her own direct-to-consumer line sold on her website.

Furnishings let to food which led to pet food which more recently seems to have led pretty much everywhere. There is now Martha clothing, Martha tequila, Martha CBD and assorted other tie-ins with her incongruously best friend Snoop Dog and just a few weeks ago a new partnership with a water brand called Liquid Death with an appropriately branded video. The restaurant seems to mark her first foray into that sector and, perhaps surprisingly, the first time she has lent her name to a physical property.

Throughout all of the promotions for all of these many brands Martha shows up in her classically Connecticut waspy wardrobe and a look on her face that at times appears to be dripping in sincerity and other times suggests she’s in on the joke and knows she’s only in for the money at this point.

Which is perfectly fine. She’s certainly earned the right to pimp herself out to any and all following what has indeed been a remarkable career. But it raises the question at what point does she cross the line into Pierre Cardin territory? Cardin, the Italian-born but Frenchified designer also began as a legitimate and well-respected figure in his field but not-so-slowly and very surely expanded his brand into what was estimated in various press reports to be somewhere between 500 and 1,000 individual licenses, everything from traditional products like furniture, fragrances and fashion to somewhat more esoteric offerings like NASA spacesuits and AMC Javelins…along with the mandatory key chains, pens and assorted trinkets.

Given Cardin’s expansive universe of products it would appear that Stewart has a ways to go to even begin to approach his total. Then again, he lived to be 98 so Martha has plenty of time to go.

And if the similarities are intriguing, perhaps it should be noted Cardin also had a restaurant, the legendary Maxim’s, but it was in Paris, France…not the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas.

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