The extraordinary legacy of the Livanos family began in 1957 when John Livanos immigrated to the United States from Greece and began his career as a dishwasher, working for his uncle in Manhattan. He purchased his first restaurant in 1960, and later opened the elegant Livanos Restaurant in White Plains, NY in 1985. Today, John and his children, Nick, Bill, and Corina, own and manage the critically acclaimed Oceana; Abboccato Italian Kitchen; and Molyvos in New York City; as well as City Limits in White Plains, NY, and Stamford, CT, and Moderne Barn in Armonk, NY.
Nick, the eldest of the Livanos siblings, grew up working in the family’s restaurants during the school year and spending his summers in Greece. Coming from a family of talented cooks and a long line of commercial fishermen, it didn’t take long for him to fall in love with the industry. Nick graduated from Adelphi University with a bachelor’s degree in management, but his life changed when, on a whim, he decided to visit the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, and later enrolled. Today, Nick oversees the business of all Livanos restaurants, sharing duties with his brother, Bill, and his sister, Corina. He enjoys engaging with guests and swapping stories about food, family, and life.
How did you get into the culinary industry?
From a very early age I was exposed to our industry. My father, John Livanos, has been in the business his whole life. He comes from a Greek family of fishermen and worked on boats as a kid. When he was 21, he came to the US and by 1960, he bought his first luncheonette in Long Island City.
Tell us about the Livanos Restaurant Group. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?
We find inspiration in all aspects of our industry. There is nothing we wouldn’t be afraid to try. Currently, our mix of restaurants include one that specializes in seafood, Greek, Italian, Modern American, and an American diner. I would even love to do a Mexican restaurant one day.
What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to Livanos Restaurant Group's success?
Having PR representation has always been very important to us. We are all too busy running the restaurants and PR is an important component in running a restaurant in today’s world.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
A trend that has never been a trend for us is simply to buy the highest quality ingredients. Our chefs demand it, we live by it, and it is second nature for us. We go to farms and buy our seasonal produce directly; we are always sourcing from the little guy. From a dietary standpoint, our guests want to eat healthy protein backed up by green vegetables and legumes. These type of dishes are well represented on our menus.
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
Livanos Restaurant Group's Motto?
A quote that I often use that comes from the Hospitality School at Cornell, and was written almost 100 years ago, "We are neither Republican nor Democrat, we serve everyone."
Your greatest success as Proprietor of Livanos Restaurant Group? Most difficult moment? How did you overcome and what did you learn?
My greatest success is happily working side-by-side with my family, having our father continue to be very active in the business, and watching my children prepare to enter the business.
The most difficult moment came about 12 years ago when City Limits Diner had a power outage on a Saturday night at 8:00 PM. We had a full restaurant—about 300 customers and employees. It was stressful, but I stayed incredibly calm. Staying calm in stressful situations is the best example you can set for your staff.
Your advice to an aspiring restaurateur?
It never gets easier. Always be prepared to put in the long hours.
Describe the ideal experience at your restaurants.
There is nothing more exhilarating than a full restaurant with a packed bar. The buzz and energy is contagious and it leads to everyone having a great time in the restaurant. This is a very common affair at Moderne Barn and Oceana.
How important are architecture and design to the success of your restaurants?
Extremely important. Restaurants need to be design driven. It is a given that the food must be good, but people quickly lose interest in a "vanilla box" environment.
How do you motivate your employees?
By working with them side-by-side, and always remembering there is no task that is beneath you.
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
Domestic Lamb Loin Chops with a great Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
What literature is on your bed stand?
Missionary Letters of Saint Nikolai Velimirovich: Letters 1–100. Saint Nikolai Velimirovich was a famous Serbian Bishop in the early 20th century. He wrote this collection of letters for the ordinary folks who always turned to him for advice during life's struggles.
Role model - business and personal?
My dad, John Livanos, is both my business and personal role model. He is always inspiring us and we never stop learning from him.
My children. I have three sons and one daughter, ages 18-25, and I can't get enough of them. They bring me such joy and they have become my buddies and less my kids.
Favorite travel destination?
Greece & Italy!!!
What's next for Livanos Restaurant Group?
Hmmm, ask me in a few months.