[:en]From Busboys To Steakhouse Restaurateurs, Two Albanian Immigrant Entrepreneurs Hit Prime Success[:]


Notice: post_permalink is deprecated since version 4.4.0! Use get_permalink() instead. in /home/albani95/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 3840
[:en]This is the story of two Albanians told by the prestigious magazine Forbes. “Oh, this is so New York,” exclaims a man in business attire to his female companion as he ushers her into the dining room of Benjamin Steakhouse, located east of Times Square in Manhattan. The dining room, often boisterous after work, is found at the end of a narrow hallway covered with framed photos of celebrities, politicians and media stars who have dined at the restaurant, from Kim Kardashian to the Clintons. Some of the city’s most iconic, “so New York” restaurants, like Sirio Maccioni’s Le Cirque, Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster, Lidia Bastianich’s Felidia and countless neighborhood establishments, are immigrant-owned. Benjamin Steakhouse falls into this category, launched by two Albanian brother-in-laws in 2006—both named Benjamin—originally from Plav, a small town in Montenegro. “I came here first,” says Benjamin Sinanaj, the elder of the two, now in his late 40s. He arrived in New York City in 1986. “I was studying physics,” recalls Sinanaj donning a crisp suit and tie and remembers coming to the realization there would be a bleak future after graduation. “The country was not in stable condition,” explains Sinanaj. The younger Benjamin, Benjamin Prelvukaj, whose sister is married to Sinanaj, immigrated as a teen in the late 90s. “When the war started in Kosovo,” says Prelvukaj, now in his mid-30s, “things were getting pretty bad.” Benjamin Steakhouse has a classic feel; its dining room features subdued lighting, bowtied waiters carrying plates of food or elongated pepper grinders, white tablecloths and warm wood surfaces. Sinanaj and Prelvukaj have a hands-on management style, one if not both can be found working the room, from greeting guests to checking coats if need be. It’s typically packed with local business people as well as tourists, willing to pay anywhere from $60 to $100 per person for a piece of dry aged prime steak. However the space was initially designed in 1911, as a club for chemists, which accounts for the multitude of quirky architectural details—a massive fireplace, multiple columns and a balcony with eating nooks. Photo by Nina Roberts The after work bar scene at Benjamin Steakhouse. The success of Benjamin Steakhouse, which replaced a string of failed restaurants including Nyla, owned by pop star Britney Spears in 2002, has spawned four additional restaurants, one of which is a steakhouse in Japan. Sitting in a private dining room in the newer, sleeker Benjamin Steakhouse Prime, located one block south of the original, the two Benjamins highlight key factors to their success. Work Ethic: Soon upon arrival, Sinanaj got a job as a busboy at the erstwhile Manhattan Grille. Eager to learn English, he read the New York Times everyday and spoke English to strangers at the restaurant and on the street. “I was not afraid to talk,” recalls Sinanaj, “even if I said something wrong.” He pauses and beams, “And I made you laugh while I said it!” Prelvukaj grew up on a farm and has been working since he was 10 years old. “We were always working as small kids because things were tough, life was not easy,” he explains. He somberly adds that his father was killed in a bus accident the day he was born. It was a struggle for his mother and siblings to live off the farm and his father’s small pension. “She lives with me and my wife and kids,” says Prelvukaj, “I try to give back to her what she gave to us.” The Peter Luger Steakhouse “Boot Camp”: Both the Benjamins worked at the legendary Peter Luger Steakhouse in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Sinanaj started in the mid-90s, working his way up to manager; Prelvukaj started in the early 2000s. They credit Peter Luger for teaching them nearly everything they know about running a steakhouse. “The formula was great,” recalls Prelvukaj, noting the restaurant was always packed, “a very simple, well-oiled machine.” Prelvukaj points out the basics: “You buy the right product, the right equipment, age the meat properly, teach people how to do it.” Risk: Immigrants who choose to start new lives abroad—prompted by economic hardship, physical survival or even in pursuit of adventure—have already taken a risk. For better or worse, launching a restaurant might not appear so daunting to those who have already taken that risk. “Sometimes taking a risk in life is worth it,” says Prelvukaj of opening Benjamin Steakhouse, adding that 50% of daily events can be entirely new situations. “But if you knew everything that could happen, you might think twice about opening a business!” he laughs, “Because the risks are very high.” Sinanaj wanted to open the steakhouse three, four years prior to the actual 2006 launch, but couldn’t find an affordable location with the ideal mix of business, residential and tourist foot traffic. “This one came up,” says Sinanaj, which involved buying out the previous tenant’s lease, using his saving and refinancing his house. Hospitality: Sinanaj knew nothing about running a restaurant when he first landed in the U.S., but did know about hospitality. “Back home,” he explains, “if any guest comes over, we treat them like kings.” Carrying the tradition, he says, “That’s how we treat everybody and customers feel it.” The Meat: The Benjamins take their meats seriously, forging a special relationship with meat purveyor Pat LeFrieda. They are allowed to inspect each piece on their weekly visits to the New Jersey location; the meat is then aged for 30 days in their Westchester warehouse. Photo by Nina Roberts The Benjamin Steakhouse dining room, once a club for chemists. Gratitude: Some American-born people who grew up in the 1970s or earlier, are cynical about the American Dream—technology is eliminating jobs that once supported families, the middle class is shrinking, costs of healthcare and education are high. But for many immigrants, the “American Dream” is real. “People say, ‘Oh, it doesn’t exist,’” Prelvukaj recounts, “it actually does, you just have to go for it.” Prelvukaj believes immigrants are appreciative for what they have in the U.S., even if meager, because they’ve experienced living in a country with no economy or worse. Every time Prelvukaj visits his hometown, he sees one friend in particular who remains unemployed with no opportunities on the horizon. “Once you see both sides,” underscores Prelvukaj, “you appreciate things so much.” “Everybody has problems. Who doesn’t have problems?” Sinanaj asks rhetorically, as he is not blind to the hardships that do exist in the U.S. Regardless, he chose to immigrate to New York City, over other international cities like London or Paris. “In America,” says Sinanaj, “there is a door for everybody.” This article was freely copied from Forbes[:]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: