New York waitress gets $50,000 tip in will of favorite customer

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The service must have been pretty good.

A waitress at a steakhouse in New York City was shocked to learn that one of her favorite customers had left her a hefty tip in his will — $50,000.

“I did not see it coming,” Maureen Donohue-Peters said Tuesday. “Shocked when I got the call.”

The gift came from Robert Ellsworth, a prominent art dealer and ultimate regular at Donohue’s, a steakhouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Workers at the restaurant say he was there nearly every day, twice a day, for more than 50 years.

“He was more than a customer,” Donohue-Peters said. “He was a dear friend of mine.”

Donohue-Peters, who also owns the steakhouse where she waits tables, said she’s known Ellsworth her entire life. He was a friend of her father’s, the original owner of the restaurant.

Ellsworth also left $50,000 for Donohue-Peter’s niece, who waits at the restaurant one night a week, the waitress said.

“Just like Bobby,” said Maxwell Hearn, a longtime friend and chairman of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Department of Asian Art. “He’s a person who is capable of really grand gestures.”

Donohue-Peters, 53, remembers Ellsworth as a wonderful man and called the windfall very nice, “but I prefer to have the man here instead of that,” she said.

Ellsworth died in August at 85, according to an obituary in The New York Times. The Times once dubbed him the “King of Ming” for his vast collection of Asian works.

Ellsworth donated and dealt art to some of the world’s top museums, including the 1975 sale of a suite of Ming Dynasty furniture to the Metropolitan Museum of Art that went on to inspire what would become the Astor Chinese Garden Court and Ming furniture room, said Hearn, who himself dined with Ellsworth at Donohue’s.

In March, a collection of art belonging to Ellsworth sold at Christie’s auction house for $134 million and set four world auction records — “a testament to Mr. Ellsworth’s unparalleled eye and diverse interests in art,” the company said.

The steakhouse, too, holds many relics of the generous collector, including his favorite booth and the red stirrer straws that always swirled in his signature Jim Beam, Donohue-Peters said.

For Ellsworth, it was always a grilled cheese and bacon for lunch and a sirloin steak for dinner, according to Bruno Blazina, a neighbor who helps out at the restaurant in the mornings.

“He would always eat half and save the other for his dog,” Blazina said.

Donohue-Peters said she would want people to remember Ellsworth for his generosity — something she and her niece, and perhaps his dog, know about firsthand.


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