This article originally appeared in the spring edition of DiningOut (Bergen/Hudson County, New Jersey edition).
Dreaming Big with Drew Nieporent
By Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta
“You have to dream large if you’re gonna win.”
That is sound advice from America’s legendary restaurateur, Drew Nieporent, founder of the Myriad Restaurant Group, which operates: Tribecca Grill, Nobu New York City, Nobu Fifty Seven, Nobu London, Nobu Next Door, Bâtard, and Crush Wine & Spirits.
In addition to opening and operating over 35 restaurants worldwide, Myriad most recently helped open The Daily Burger at Madison Square Garden.
Born and raised in New York City, Nieporent had fond memories of his Jewish grandmother’s “amazing matzo ball soup,” though his actress mom, who entertained often, liked making frozen food. “…typical sixties mother,” he said.
Growing up in the 1960s, Nieporent was inspired by the confidence of Muhammad Ali, known for his quote, “I am the greatest.” And it was Joe Namath making it into the Super Bowl in 1969 that got Nieporent’s wheels turning that he, too, wanted to be a success.
Nieporent’s father worked for NY State Liquor Authority in the 1960s and exposed his son to diverse restaurants. “Chinese, French, Italian … I took to it right away,” said Nieporent. “I always knew I wanted to open more than one restaurant.”
Early on Nieporent said he was fortunate to work on cruise ships and began his management career at New York City’s Maxwell’s Plum and Tavern on the Green. He went on to work at French restaurants Le Périgold, La Grenouille and Plaza Athenee’s Le Regence.
The Montrachet was Nieporent’s first restaurant, which opened in 1985 and earned three stars from The New York Times. Robert De Niro came to Montrachet as a guest and asked Nieporent if he wanted to do another restaurant in Tribecca.
Jokingly, Nieporent said, “You talking to me?” referring to De Niro’s famous movie quote from “Taxi Driver.”
Together Nieporent and De Niro opened up Tribecca Grill in April, 1990. Investors included Bill Murray, Sean Penn, and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Four years later, off the success of Tribecca Grill, they opened Nobu New York City, with Japanese celebrity chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa as chef and owner. Matsuhisa is known for his fusion cuisine, blending traditional Japanese dishes with South American ingredients. Black cod in miso is Matsuhisa’s signature dish.
Today there are 32 Nobu restaurants around the world. “The flavors are amazing,” said Nieporent. “Nobody really puts out the food in the unique fashion that Nobu does.” Nobu menu favorites include: yellowtail with jalapeno; and tiradito made with special citrus.
In 1994, in collaboration with De Niro, Robin Williams, and Francis Ford Coppola, Nieporent opened Rubicon in San Francisco.
Now, so many years later, Bâtard won best new restaurant in May, 2015.
Of all Nieporent’s restaurants, he is quick to say he doesn’t have a favorite. “I always say I relate to my restaurants like I relate to my children,” Nieporent said. “I don’t play favorites.”
When asked if he has plans for opening a new restaurant Nieporent said he didn’t. “I take them as it comes,” he said. “The reality is I’m content with what we have. In the restaurant business, you have to keep an eye on what you have. The most important thing is that we stood the test of time. I think what’s really important is looking over our shoulder and keeping the restaurants strong and vibrant.”
When asked what advice he’d give to someone who was considering going into the restaurant business, Nieporent said to “Think long and hard about doing it. Today the odds are stocked against you. Costs are up … food costs … payroll … You have to dot ever ‘I’ and cross every ‘T’ … you have to be accurate of your bookkeeping when it comes to your staff and payroll.”
On his down time, Nieporent loves to cook at home, typically for the holidays, adding, “I love barbecuing pork chops on the grill.”
During the winter months, like most others, Nieporent enjoys warm, cozy meals. He said, “Nothing’s more delicious than a good stew or a good chili … a beef stew with a good cut of meat and lots of chilies. My wife makes a delicious Texas style chili that I love. We do an onion soup with a melted cheese at Tribecca Grill that’s very comforting.”
When dining out in Piermont, New York, where he lives now, still close to Bergen County, just over the border in Rockland County New York, Nieporent favors the Italian restaurant, Confetti. He also enjoys Peter X. Kelly’s restaurant in Yonkers, Xaviars X2O. “It’s really a special place,” he said of the exquisite glass framed French/Italian/Spanish influenced dining salon with a 25 foot vaulted ceiling and three walls of glass frame offering views of the George Washington and Tappen Zee bridges.
And when dining out in New Jersey, Nieporent loves Arturo’s in Midland Park; Brasserie Brandman in Park Ridge; and Dim Sum Dynasty and Latour in Ridgewood, where he was a longtime resident until he recently moved back to New York with his wife so they’d be closer to her parents.
Nevertheless, Nieporent has fond memories of life in Bergen County. “It was the perfect situation,” he said. “My kids had great schools … We had a beautiful yard … It was easy to get around.”
Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta is an award-winning journalist and public speaker. She is available to speak at libraries on healthy dining out. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org