Georgina Nieves ‘17 had the opportunity speak with Drew Nieporent ‘77, the acclaimed restauranteur behind Myriad Restaurant Group. The interview covers Drew’s experience within the Hotel School and his present career.
How do you think your time in the hotel school influenced your path, and is there any class that you believe shaped your experiences?
I think the most formative for me was the diversity of the student body. On the very first day, there was a reception for us. I met my fellow classmates. It was amazing for me that there were people from Bahamas, or Ghana, or France, or Atlanta for that matter. That tremendous diversity amount the student body served me tremendously through the four years, it was so interesting to meet different people from different places.
And then in terms of a class. In freshman year there was a class called introduction to hospitality, but really it was an introduction to Vance Christian. Vance Christian was a larger than life professor to us. He always had these amazing philosophical ideas that he threw out to us, and it was very impressive. I think that left an impression not only on me, but on most of us.
If there is one piece of advice you could give to graduating students, what would that be?
It just doesn’t happen right away in terms of your career. You graduate and now have to enter into job experiences that will lead up into whatever your chosen goal is. It is very rare that someone leaves school and gets a position they will stick with their entire career. I don’t know too many people who have done that. So I would just say take your time, and don’t look to far ahead. It will take a couple of years before you reach the point where you are professionally most satisfied.
So obviously you have been extremely successful in the restaurant industry, I think that is an understatement, but I think there are two sides to opening restaurants there is that business side where you see the market and you see an opportunity and you decide to take it. And there is also that entrepreneurial spirit where you have an idea about it and you are extremely passionate about it. What do you think opening your first restaurant was like? What is more of that seeing the market and seeing the opportunity, or was it you that was more inspired by your entrepreneurial spirit and decided to go with an opportunity.
I was always very clear as far as what I wanted to do. I wanted to open several restaurants when I was younger. And going to Cornell started me on the path of the school and the educational side of the business. And you can’t just can’t will the thing to happen, you have to have the finances to make it work. So even with all good intentions, if you don’t have the money to start the business, you are not going to be able to start the business. It really has to do with the economic climate and where you happen to be. I was fortunate I was in New York and my roots were in New York so I knew the marketplace quite well. And I knew I could be successful here. I was always directed to wanting to do my own thing.
Did you have someone that inspired you? Did you have a role model?
Joe Baum who was a Cornell graduate. Joe Baum opened the Windows on The World in New York, and the Rainbow Room.
How did you make the connection to open a restaurant with Robert DeNiro?
I had opened my first restaurant in 1985 in the neighborhood known as Tribeca. And he lived down in Tribeca, so he came into the restaurant, it was an evening where his girlfriend and he was having dinner asked me the question about whether I was interested in doing another restaurant. So that was over 33 years ago.
So I see that your restaurants have won a lot of awards from Wine Spectator, so obviously I imagine that you are really into wine. I always like to personally ask this question because it can say a lot about someone, but bear with me it can be a little weird. If you were a wine, what would you be and why?
If I were a wine I think I would be a Beaune because I like the shape of the bottle and the voluptuous consistency of the wine.
I don’t think I have heard of that?
Beaune is a village in Burgundy. In Burgandy all the wines are named after the villages.
Nice, and is there anything you would like to convey to students before we finish this interview?
The only thing I would convey is to not think too far ahead. It is important to enjoy your time in college. It obviously goes by with a wink of an eye. Enjoy your time there and don’t start worrying about your professional career until you need to.
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The Cornell Hotel Society Executive Board thanks the Cornell Hotel Society – Collegiate Chapter for initiating and conducting the “Conversations with Alumni” project.