Christian Pappanicholas ’98, talks entrepreneurship and his 6 Favorite Places to Eat Outside
Babson NYC’s Alyssa Sullivan ’11 caught up with Babson Alumni & restauranteur, Christian Pappanicholas ’98 , to talk about Babson, entrepreneurship, and to get access to his Summer 2017 outdoor dining NYC hit list.
Alyssa Sullivan, VP of Membership: Why did you choose Babson and how has graduating from Babson shaped your career within the Food/Bev Industry?
Christian Pappanicholas: I knew in high school, family members owned businesses, and entrepreneurship was in my mind when I was considering business school. Additionally, I had a soccer teammate two years older than me and visited him at Babson, I loved the school at first sight. Babson shaped my career and life because of the members of its community. I know I could make a phone call to any of my classmates across the globe for whatever I may need. Whether they came from Belgium, Honduras, Venezuela, or Germany I know I have a solid support network. It’s funny when I look back at my experiences at Babson and food was always in the picture. We cooked lobsters in Pietz, steaks on the grill outside of the dorms, and I consistently challenged the chefs at Trim to try new things.
Alyssa: Why did you choose to open a restaurant in NYC? Would you say that NYC is the most competitive restaurant market in the country/world?
Christian: Well I had moved to NYC right after graduation to work for a commercial real estate firm. I worked straight for six years without a vacation, but food was always on my brain. Then I left my job and went to culinary school for six months. The environment at the French Culinary Institute was amazing and I loved it. I started my company in 2006 when I recognized the amazing opportunity this city offered me. I’m not concerned about the over-saturation, unless someone opens the exact concept across the street. There are over 10 million people here and they have to eat, but it probably wouldn’t be as easy today, the proliferation of restaurants is staggering.
Alyssa: What was the largest obstacle you faced in the process of opening your restaurant and would you have done something differently to mitigate that risk in retrospect?
Christian: There wasn’t one specific obstacle but I don’t think you are ever really ready to start your own business. Starting your own business is consuming — you have to look for competitive advantages in the marketplace.
Alyssa: I was surprised to see such a Belgian inspired menu at The Cannibal — your last name Pappanicholas reads Greek to me. The Greek have great food as well? Can you tell me a little bit more about your inspiration for The Cannibal?
Christian: One of my closest friends from Babson; Matt was from Belgium. His family came to our Senior Week and I immediately identified with their culture, it was really similar to my Greek culture. I wanted to bring the warm Belgian culture to NYC and celebrate the beer, you see craft beers really hadn’t made its way to New York yet and I wanted to play a part in exposing the city to it. Belgians celebrate beer like Italians celebrate wine. Also I knew the menu had to be meat- centric and laid back.
Alyssa: From my understanding you have an Executive Chef — what does your professional relationship look like being a business owner and having a Chef report to you?
Christian: Your job as a business owner is to lead people. My time at culinary school taught me the right techniques and processes because I never wanted to have a moment in my career where I didn’t understand that. I hire professionals so I trust that they know those same techniques and processes that I was taught. It’s vital that I had that time in culinary school because that knowledge is something all my chefs’ respect. I have to understand all the parts in order for this business to be a success. Having knowledge in real estate, finance, culinary techniques, and management allow me to be a stronger leader. The goal is that I entrust my people to do what they specialize in so that I can strategize and be forward thinking. My goal is to work on the business everyday NOT work for the business everyday which is great in theory but don’t let me fool you that I don’t catch myself scraping food off dishes with the dishwashers every once and a while.
Alyssa: How do you motivate your team to keep relevant and creative when new restaurants are popping up daily in NYC?
Christian: It starts by hiring self-motivated people and then challenging them to continue to move forward. I feel very in tune as to what is going on in the market. I look across various industries to understand what is on trend through fashion and media. NYC restaurants set trends so we look to each other in the city for inspiration a lot of the time. I can humbly say that the concept of a butcher shop in a restaurant didn’t exist before The Cannibal.
Alyssa: What is your favorite dish and drink at The Cannibal? Do you prefer to make it yourself, don’t worry we won’t tell your Chef.
Christian: It has to be the 36oz Ribeye from Pat La Frieda with fresh Spring veggies and I don’t prefer to make it myself. As important as meat is to The Cannibal we’ve made a larger effort to create a menu that is both meat and vegetable centric.
Alyssa: What is the best piece of advice you can give a Babson alum or current student that may be interested in entering the restaurant biz?
Christian: Get experiences working for someone else first. I think you have to put in time working for good people before venturing out on your own. My time working at Lupa and Otto provided me with perspective and I recognized the importance of relationships between chefs and how the industry supports each other. I would not have be where I am today if it weren’t for the time I put in working for someone else first.
Chrisitian’s Top 5 Outdoor Restaurant Recommendations
This narrow gastropub offers a meat-heavy Belgian menu along with an extensive list of bottled beer.
113 E 29th St, New York, NY 10016
Long-running Greek taverna known for fresh grilled fish served in spacious quarters with a garden.
28–13 23rd Ave, Astoria, NY 11105
Energetic, greenmarket-driven hot spot by the High Line serving American fare plus a popular brunch.
156 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011
Café Gitane — originator of the Avocado TOAST!!
NoLita branch of mini chain of cafes serving couscous and other French-Moroccan standards.
242 Mott St, New York, NY 10012
Rustic counter-service choice featuring slow smoked meats, craft beer & live music on weekends
454 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn, NY 11231
Popular Bushwick destination known for its wood-fired pizzas, with a separate takeout area.
261 Moore St, Brooklyn, NY 11206
Originally from Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, Evan Christian Pappanicholas grew up in the restaurant industry. His father owned two Greek restaurants from 1968–1998 in Delaware. He continued the tradition as owner of three New York City restaurants & one in LA: Resto, The Cannibal and The Cannibal Hell’s Kitchen & The Cannibal Beer & Butcher in Los Angeles.
Christian earned a degree in finance and entrepreneurship from Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts and after graduation, he moved to Manhattan where he began working at Insignia ESG in commercial real estate. After five years, his passion for food and drink combined with his entrepreneurial spirit quickly took over and he found himself at the French Culinary Institute. While spending each day around distinguished chefs and his biggest passion — food — his mind raced to figure out how to break into the New York City restaurant scene, which eventually lead him to opening The Cannibal.