We recently had the opportunity to chat Steve Breslawski, the Director of Events and Marketing at Midtown Mediterranean outposts Amali and Sopra. During our conversation, Steve gave us a behind-the-scenes glimpse at a typical day at Amali. We covered the restaurant’s commitment to sustainability, their extensive wine selection, and Steve’s favorite dishes and experiences. Keep reading to learn more about Steve, Amali, and Sopra.
Tell us about your background in private dining management. How did you land at Amali?
I met the owner of Amali and Sopra, James Mallios, at a wedding. His wife is a good friend of my cousin. I came onboard as the Events and Marketing Director three years ago. Before Amali I worked in a lot of different marketing and advertising fields including events, social, online, search engine, and print, all of which are needed for growing hospitality startup. I’ve been wanting to get back into the restaurant industry since I was bitten by the bug working for a small event company.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
It sounds cliche, but I really talking with people and hearing about the great time they just had. Whether it is a rehearsal dinner or an investor board meeting, people put a lot of trust in us to make sure that these important events go well. It’s a great feeling to know that you lived up to and exceeded the promises you made.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
In this industry, feedback is instantaneous and constantly changing. It’s the toughest challenge about restaurants. The dining room is like a stage, everything needs to be perfect, and there is a new cast of characters comes through the door every fifteen minutes.
Tell us about a memorable event you organized at Amali. What was unique about it?
We have had a bunch of memorable events here. We once had a Scottish wedding. All of the planning was through email, and the first time they saw the space was at the dinner. Twenty-five Scots in kilts walked through the main dining room to get to our upstairs private room. It was a real show stopper.
Walk us through a typical day for you at Amali.
I usually get to the office around 10 in the morning. Some days I have already spoken to clients while getting ready for work at home. I start going through emails when I arrive here. If we have a lunch event I’ll help the team setup that event, and if we don’t have any lunch events I’ll start planning for that evening’s event. A lot of the day is spent taking calls, emails, and walkthroughs with clients. The restaurant is a small space, but I still walk four to six miles through the space each day. We have three floors, and I do about forty-five flights of stairs.
Why do you love working at Amali?
The family here that the owner have put together is great. The team includes cheesemongers, Greeks, South Americans, actors, Broadway singers, chemists, cellists, you name it. The chefs and the kitchen staff here are always happy to explain to you how they prepared a meal or teach you how to break down a whole animal. It’s just a great group. Being surrounded by all this food is a definitely a bonus too.
Perfect segway. What’s your favorite item on the menu?
The octopus and the pastas. Our octopus [Octopus a la Plancha] is one of the best I’ve had anywhere. I make an effort to try to octopus at different places, and it’s not the same. The pastas are handmade every day and the bolognese is incredible. I have been asked several times for the recipe.
If you could have dinner with anyone at Amali, who would it be?
I have had a chance to meet a lot of great people here already, from celebrities to people visiting from out of town. However, for some reason we have had a lot of actors who have played famous villains here. So, I would love to have Darth Vader (James Earl Jones), Tony Montana (Al Pacino), the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger). I am secretly hoping Amali becomes THE Villain restaurant in NYC.
Amali is home to Sopra, a private dinner club housed in the upstairs of the restaurant. Tell us a bit more about it. How was the idea conceived?
The idea for Sopra came from Head Chef Rachel [Goulet], who really wanted to get back to the dinner party aspect of life. Dinner parties have gone away in New York City because there is no space for hosting. So we decided to build a space where people could attend dinner parties at our house. That’s what Sopra is. It is built in an old apartment. We want everyone to come to our house to enjoy a meal with old friends and leave with some new friends.
What has been your most memorable Sopra experience?
We once hosted a thirtieth birthday party. Part of the Sopra experience is inviting guests into the kitchen to cook with Chef Rachel. The birthday girl was trying to start the meal by saying something nice about her parents, but couldn’t find her father. Her father was a big foodie and was in the kitchen helping Rachel instead of at the table. He ended up being there with a glass of wine between every course, it was pretty funny. This birthday group ended up staying well into the night, hanging out in the kitchen, talking and laughing with the staff. It was great evening.
Sustainability is an essential part of the Amali experience. Tell us about the restaurant’s in-house and community efforts to promote sustainability.
Everything in the restaurant from the food, decor, and the wine is sustainably derived. Beyond just saying we are sustainable we have been recognized by a lot of organizations like Clean Plates, Slow Food, and REAL Food. We’re also at the forefront of labor change in New York City for tipped and non-tipped employees, which we feel is one of our most important sustainable practices. We make sure our chefs are paid proportionally better than other restaurants in New York. Our benefits program for our employees is comparable to the benefits package someone would receive at a larger company. We also do a lot of work with local businesses, schools, the Midtown East Partnership, and charities here.
What else should we know about Amali? What brings people through the door, and why do they come back?
I think one of the things that brings people through the door is our wine program. It’s amazing. Along with our award winning list, we have a pretty unique corkage policy. If you bring in a unique or interesting bottle of wine, we do not charge corkage. We have had some incredibly delicious and rare wines come through the door. We have a lot of repeat customers who always try to one-up their last bottle. I also think our guests keep coming back because the environment James has created. The restaurant is friendly and really feels like it belongs in West Village. It’s a restaurant oasis in Midtown.
Finally, what advice would you give anyone planning a private event?
The advice I’d give depends on the type of event, but for personal events, rehearsal dinners or birthday parties, I think it’s important for people to try to not get overwhelmed with idea of planning. You’ll miss the event. When I plan events like these, I look at the evening as an opportunity for my guests to get together with family and friends, that they may not have seen in a while, and plan the evening accordingly. I think it makes for a better planning process and final event.