A Myriad of Tastes - Talking With Stuy Alumnus and Legendary Restaurateur: Drew Nieporent

A conversation with Drew Nieporent (’73), Stuyvesant alumnus and legendary restaurateur.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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A few blocks north from Stuyvesant High School, you’ll find the star-studded Tribeca Grill. Walk two blocks east, and you’ll find Bâtard, a sleek European-style restaurant. Go a few blocks south, and you’ll find the world-renowned Nobu, famous for its Japanese-Peruvian fusion.

Or perhaps you’d take the 1 train from Chambers Street to Peter Cooper Village. Perhaps there, decades past, you’ll find a young boy who loved food—a love that blossomed into something greater, something grander.

His name is Drew Nieporent (’73). He’s the founder of the Myriad Restaurant Group, which operates Tribeca Grill, Nobu, Bâtard, Crush Wine & Spirits, and numerous other restaurants. He’s opened and operated over 39 restaurants around the world, many of which have earned worldwide acclaim from Michelin stars to James Beard Awards.

It wasn’t always this way, though.

Nieporent grew up in a city of bright lights. His mother was an actress, and his father worked in the state liquor authority, where he licensed restaurants. “She would take us to shows, [and] he would take us to restaurants,” he recalled. “I was exposed to a tremendous amount of ethnic places, all types of restaurants.”

From a formative age, Nieporent knew that food was his calling. Nieporent was accepted into Stuyvesant the same year they began accepting women, in 1969. “All the time I was at Stuyvesant, I knew I would be in the restaurant business. I just didn’t know where I was going to college,” he explained.

He originally planned on applying to culinary school in Switzerland, but a last-minute decision landed him at Cornell’s Hotel School. “I thought that was very ironic because my grades weren’t great at Stuy,” he remarked.

Before Cornell, Nieporent had worked at a McDonald’s: 23rd street, right up from his house. While he learned a lot in the classroom, it was what he did outside of school that gave him his best career preparation. “I think I learned a lot at Stuyvesant; I was a little skeptical of Cornell. [But] nothing beats the school of hard knocks, the actual work,” he stated.

Toward the end of his freshman year, Nieporent landed a job on the Vistafjord cruise ship, a first-class cruise to major European ports. “You worked seven days a week, three meals a day,” he described. “We went to the North Cape, the Balkan Sea, [and] Russia; I ended up going back over 15 times, so that was a terrific education.”

Nieporent graduated from Cornell University in 1977. Eight years later, he would open his first restaurant, Montrachet. Within weeks of its opening, Montrachet earned three stars out of four from the New York Times, and the rest is history.

However, this wasn’t an easy process. While Nieporent was running the New York marathon in 1983, he stumbled upon a spot on West Broadway. “It was 1,500 square feet, $1500. I signed a lease even though I had no money,” he stated. “But then a classmate and I […] came up with $150 thousand from the small business administration. With that money, we opened Montrachet in April of 1985.”

In the 70s and 80s, formal dining dominated the scope of New York’s restaurants. Montrachet changed that.

“We set out to have great food with this sort of relaxed sophistication,” Nieporent stated. “The key was that our price was $16 for three courses.”

Seven weeks later, Montratchet earned three stars from the New York Times for its “alluring food, relaxed atmosphere, and reasonable prices.”

“It was like winning the lottery without being able to collect the cash,” he said. “It’s known as Bâtard now; it won the James Beard Foundation for Best Restaurant Award in 2015 […] I’ve had that space for over 35 years.”

Nieporent took some inspiration from Joseph Baum, a restaurateur who founded the Windows on the World at the World Trade Center and the Rainbow Room at the Rockefeller Center. Likewise, he had always looked up to childhood sports figures like Muhammad Ali. “I remember hearing [him say] ‘I am the greatest,’ and he lived up to it,” Nieporent stated.

It was five years later when Nieporent and the renowned actor Robert De Niro established Tribeca Grill, an upscale bar and grill. In 1994, Nieporent, De Niro, producer Meir Teper, and legendary chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa founded Nobu New York, which has gone on to open restaurants all over the world.

Since the opening of Montrachet, Nieporent has overseen restaurants for over 35 years. Myriad’s restaurants and services have been featured on platforms from the Wine Spectator Magazine to HBO documentaries.

“The Internet and social media, of course, have changed [where] you have all of these middlemen,” he said. “But at the end of the day, you know it’s kind of the same business; the food is cooked, and when it's hot, [it is] brought to the table in a presentable manner. In that way, you know the rituals of dining have not changed as much.”

This perspective on hospitality has been true throughout Nieporent’s life. “It wasn’t so much the food, but it was the people,” he stated. “There used to be a restaurant in New York called Headquarters. The owner had been the chef to [President Dwight D.] Eisenhower; the food was very strange but delicious.”

However, now, meals can’t always be served hot and ready. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, New York’s restaurants have been hit particularly hard. It’s been over two months since the closure of restaurants across the city.

“Quite frankly, I still think it’s too early to tell,” Nieporent stated. “We’ve been doing takeout, but it’s about a fifth of the gross service of the sales. If the government tells us we can only run at 50 percent capacity because of social distancing, something is going to happen to the rent because we pay 100 percent rent to have 50 percent capacity. It’s just not gonna work.”

Nieporent retains a positive perspective, however. “We’re not young people anymore,” he said. “I’ve been watching. I watch everything, very carefully, and it is better to be safe and worry about health issues; the economic issues I’m not so concerned about.”

While staying healthy and positive during quarantine, Nieporent encourages the current generation of Stuyvesant kids to plan for the future. “The one thing is that when you’re young, you have the energy; you have the clear vision. Go formulate your goals, and go about them early. Because that’s what I did, and I would say that’s a big reason for my success,” he encouraged.

After graduating from Stuyvesant, Nieporent revisited the school for a day, not as a student but with a celebrated career spanning a vast myriad of restaurants across the world. And yet he returned with the same unparalleled vision that he had as a student—with his lifelong passion that he lived and breathed for.