Entrepreneur Q&A: Westchester Restaurateur Constantine Kalandranis
What does it take to make it in the county restaurant business? Constantine Kalandranis of 273 Kitchen in Harrison shares his thoughts.
Photos courtesy of Constantine Kalandranis
As an owner of two (soon to be three) restaurants in Westchester and Rockland counties, Constantine Kalandranis knows a thing or two about the local food and beverage scene. He opened 8 North Broadway (Nyack) in 2012 and 273 Kitchen (Harrison) in April of this year. He also has plans to open a new restaurant, 251 Lex, in Mount Kisco this September.
Since the local restaurant business can be daunting for newcomers, we decided to ask Kalandranis a few questions about his story and about starting restaurants in the area.
Q: What made you want to open restaurants in the Hudson Valley area?
A: Although we are from New York City, we wanted our team to be somewhere that was close to the ingredients we were all fighting over in the city. We see Westchester, Rockland, and the Hudson Valley as the new boroughs of the state, with more room to grow and neighborhoods of very diverse, yet sophisticated, clientele. We also wanted to make sure we were catering to neighborhoods. Being from New York, neighborhoods have always meant something to us and cooking in neighborhoods where you can intimately serve your "people" can be really special to the guest and fulfilling to us.
Q: How did you originally get funding to start the first restaurant?
A: My sister, cousins, and I basically sold all we had, got a huge loan and put my sister’s house against the loan for the building [that 8 North Broadway is inside of]. Talk about pressure! I am fortunate that we all trust and care about each other and that we were able to pull through. Buying the building made it slightly easier to approach the banks, but it was a yearlong process of fighting to convince the banks that I had a plan and could be a worthy prospect. By the skin of our teeth, here we are.
Q: What challenges did you face when first starting the restaurants?
A: In any restaurant, money is always a precious and sometimes scarce thing, but I think the biggest challenge for me was realizing that spending all the time in the kitchen, where I was most happy, was not the only part of being an owner. Now I may spend less time in the kitchen, but I thoroughly enjoy the teaching and education that goes on with staff.
Q: Are there any challenges specific to the Hudson Valley area?
A: Maybe the amount of transient walking traffic as compared to New York City, but this provides a benefit in really getting to know your clientele and understanding just how important every table is.
Q: What challenges do you still face today?
A: The challenges of today are more trying to balance my time and efforts between two restaurants—and soon three—and still have my family like me!
From left: 8 North Broadway General Manager and Sommelier Richard Mitchell, Executive Chef Hichem Habbas, and Chef & Owner Constantine Kalandranis
Q: Has being located in the Hudson Valley benefitted the restaurant in any way?
A: Absolutely! The people of the Hudson Valley have a real loyalty and sophistication relating to food. Without these amazing people, the restaurants simply would not make it. There is also much more room to grow by paying Hudson Valley rents and mortgages as opposed to New York City where you have a situation that can be crippling to businesses. It allows us the ability to not take short cuts and do things as best we can by not having to fight the New York City financial setup.
Q: How do you generate "buzz" in the community for the restaurants?
A: It’s always a tough thing. Everyone has access to social media, which is such a fabulous way to communicate. Whenever we do something we are really proud of, we try and first make sure we are excited enough to sell it to ourselves. The more energy and excitement we have behind the cause, the faster buzz seems to create itself in whatever magnitude. Sometimes it can be as simple as talking to patrons and having them really spread the word and make connections that way.
Q: In your opinion, why do so many restaurants fail early on? How can restaurateurs prevent this from happening?
A: Failure is only a perception. Restaurants close for so many reasons. I think under-financing and under-qualification would be the most mathematical statistic. You cannot open the doors half-assed and expect people to accept the inconsistencies. And opening a restaurant to just look cool or because you think you are a good cook or host is completely asinine. We see these two occurrences a lot.
Q: What would you credit as a "key" to success in the local restaurant industry?
A: Listening. [You] need to listen to what people want and how they eat; need to listen to your staff to what they need to be better and what they want of the establishment; need to listen to all who offer advice and know what is right; need to listen to the bad and make the bad your new good; need to listen to the good and make it the new great; need to listen to the founders of New York restaurants who busted their humps to set the bars high; need to listen to those you trust and listen to yourself who, if you are honest, will never send you astray.
Q: Any additional advice to aspiring restaurateurs?
A: Never be greedy. Do it only if you love it. Treat your guests and your team like you would your family. Expect a lot, but always be kind, respectful, and a good leader. Learn to love pain and make work your happy place—you’re going to spend most of your life there!