“I was the second child of an immigrant family. He [my father] came over with nothing. He always envisioned me being a lawyer, an accountant, stockbroker, some more white collar type of job.”


I’ve always led a hectic life, whether a mortgage banker, a restaurateur, or even as a student in junior high and high school. I’ve just always had a lot of things going on. I started dedicating my time heavily into athletics. There was never a season of the year where I wasn’t playing some sort of sport. Even when my team practices were over, I would practice on my own, or practice with my friends. I never stopped.

Looking at my life today, I guess somewhere inside me I must still crave that type of nonstop lifestyle, because I’m still that very same way. I’ve never been a man of leisure. In fact, my father would tell my brother and I that when we were kids, he used to always have to hold me by the arm because if he let me go I’d run all over the place. So, I guess it’s just my personality. The only thing that was ever able to stop me in my tracks was being diagnosed with cancer at age twenty-six.  


I was the second child of an immigrant family. My mother and father moved from Alexandria, Egypt to New York when my mother was pregnant with my older brother. He was born in Brooklyn, before I was born, my parents bought a house in Staten Island, where I was born.

I had a pretty good life growing up. My parents were fantastic–they were really awesome people. They were always very supportive of everything that we wanted to do, and we were always surrounded with a lot of family. There were actually two separate sets of aunts and uncles, and all of their kids, I had eight cousins living on the same block. We were a very tight-knit group.

I spent a lot of time with my aunts growing up, because my mother was always in and out of treatment for cancer. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was very young, and she was in and out of remission my whole life. But she would always fight it and beat it. It was a constant struggle.

She passed away when I was a freshman in high school, and that was something that caused me to grow up a lot faster than most kids my age. It was so difficult to see my father go through losing my mother. My brother and I felt the need to help him deal with becoming a single parent.


I continued to pour my energy into sports. It was a way to escape some of the things that I was dealing with, like my mother’s illness and then her passing. It was somewhere I could focus my energy and attention, and just kind of be in the zone. Baseball was my favorite, and I wound up getting a scholarship to play in college.

It turned out that my university was also a well known business school, with a very high-ranking entrepreneurial studies program.


I always knew that I wanted to work for myself and it just felt like the direction I wanted to take with my life. During college I actually bought into a small failing pizzeria that was in a great area. Everything was going well, and I was turning the business around. While going to school and living in NJ, the business was in Staten Island, so I ended up moving back home to be closer to the business. That was the start of three months of my day beginning at six am and ending around midnight. It was brutal.


Balancing school and work wasn’t working, so I spoke to my father about dropping out to focus on my flourishing business. He was not receptive, and actually extremely adamant that I not quit school. He had come to this country with the dream of seeing his children go to college and get professional jobs, so he was really upset. Seeing his reaction, I decided to sell my share of the pizzeria to my partner, and finish up with school. My father wanted me to do it, and I felt that he deserved that.

After I graduated with my master’s in marketing and finance, he set me up with a friend of his in mortgage banking. Through that job, I discovered that I had the skills and talent to be a pretty successful loan officer. I was making lots of money doing so. I wasn’t thrilled with where I landed, but it was working. Then, out of nowhere, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and that kind of stopped everything in its tracks.



I decided that I was going to tell my brother about my diagnosis, but not my father. There was no reason to put him through that when I was sure I was going to be just fine. There was no benefit to upsetting him with the news. I didn’t need emotional support from anybody, so I didn’t feel like I should put the burden of my situation on anyone else.

At this point I was twenty-six, and I had been on my father’s great health insurance my whole life. It was my understanding that I was covered until I was twenty-six, so I figured that meant until the day that I turned twenty-seven. I found out that was not the case when the hospital called to cancel my pending surgery. The insurance carrier had dropped me, and I was no longer covered. When I tried to call to sort it out with them they would only talk to the policy holder: my dad.

So now I had to tell him, which was very difficult because it was so emotional for him. I had been specifically trying to keep it from him as to not upset him or worry him, but now I knew that he was going to be furious about it. Obviously, we were both very emotional. There was a lot of crying. Not only was he angry, he was sad and felt helpless. It was the complete opposite of what I had planned.


They ended up reinstating my insurance, and I got the surgery. But that was definitely a very scary point in time, and it killed me to hurt my father.

Within a couple of weeks after surgery, I was feeling great, and I just continued on with life. I went right back to mortgage banking. But after getting through all of that, I decided that I needed to do things a little differently. I was going to do what I had always wanted to do with my life. Money wasn’t going to be a main driver.

I missed the restaurant industry, and I had not given up on my dream of opening one of my own. An opportunity came up for me to purchase a beautiful, struggling restaurant in a 120 year old building in Staten Island. I started doing mortgages only part time, and put all of my energy towards making the restaurant happen.


Fast forward only four years and now I am the proud owner of several restaurants. We do a lot of charity events at my first restaurant, The Stone House. I also wanted to open a place where a portion of the proceeds could regularly go to cancer research or treatment. So I opened a second restaurant and named it after my mother: Violette’s Cellar. We’re currently working with Staten Island University Hospital to help bring their new comprehensive cancer center into reality. We’re really happy about who we chose to donate to, and it’s a nice tribute to my mother.

My life is definitely fulfilled now. I feel creative. I get to have an expressive outlet. I found out that I love designing the look and feel of a restaurant. I also get the same expressive outlet with the food and the drinks and the menus. Even the look of the food on the plate is something that I really enjoy coming up with. I’ve been really lucky, because I kind of have a handle on all of it.

The biggest challenge in my life today is my allocation of time. At the end of the day, I’m still that kid living a ‘not a minute to spare’ kind of life. I’m loving every minute of it.