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Maestro of the Myriad

Restaurateur Drew Nieporent owns and operates a veritable dining empire and shows no signs of abdicating his throne.
Sam Gugino
From the Print Edition:
John F. Kennedy, Nov/Dec 98

(continued from page 4)

Even with the security of having a loyal and well-trained staff, Nieporent oversees a restaurant empire that would make most people's heads spin. But it is this intense activity and constant stimulation that turns him on. "People criticize me for traveling--I try to go somewhere once a month--but for me it's a learning process. I want to learn something every day, whether it's a wine, a food or a cigar. That's what I learn from travel," he says.

Besides, Nieporent says, there is always "reportability." He's in touch with his restaurants almost daily, making sure they are running smoothly. But he doesn't concentrate solely on sales. "I used to work at places where they asked, 'How much money did we make?' " he says. "I ask, 'Did the food come out hot? Was there a minimum of confrontation? Was the morale good?' When things are going well, the dollars will fall into place."

And indeed they have. Tribeca Grill and Nobu are almost neck-and-neck in annual revenues at about $8 million each. In addition to treating his people well, Nieporent attributes his restaurants' success to a very conservative approach. "We don't shoot our bolt in the beginning and try to get back our investment in the first six months," he says. A new restaurant builds the old-fashioned way: gradually. First it opens only for dinner, then lunch, then seven days a week.

"A huge majority of restaurateurs lack the discipline the craft requires," say Café des Artistes' Lang. "Drew is one of the few in this age of star restaurateurs and star chefs who are much better than the older restaurateurs of my generation."

Only one Myriad restaurant, Zeppole, a casual Neapolitan eatery located at the TriBakery, has been unsuccessful. But even this restaurant isn't a failure, according to Nieporent. "Zeppole was really 'retired,' not closed," he says. "It wasn't working as well as we would have liked, even though we got two stars from The Times. But even if you consider it a failure, don't judge me on only one effort; judge me by my body of work, like an actor."

Sam Gugino is a food and wine writer based in New York City.


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