Nino Selimaj Interview

Nino Selimaj is the owner of Nino’s which has been described as one of New York’s most popular upscale Italian dining destinations.
Nino’s celebrity clientele includes Tom Jones, Cindy Crawford, Stevie Wonder, Brooke Shields, Regis Philbin, and ex-Governor of New York State – George Pataki.
Nino’s also is the home of the $1,000 Pizza.
That’s right - $1,000 for a pizza. Mr. Nino Selimaj was kind enough to take some time off from his very busy schedule to speak with us.

Q – Mr. Selimaj what were you doing before opening Nino’s? Were you in the restaurant business?
A – I’m 51 years old. I came here 31 years ago. Before that, no, I was not in a restaurant. I finished school and then I came to the United States. My grandparents were in the restaurant (business) back home.

Q – So, you had some idea of what was involved in opening a restaurant?
A – Yes.

Q – When did you open Nino’s?
A – 18 years ago.

Q – 1991.
A – Yeah, ’91.

Q – You have how many restaurants now, 3 or 4?
A – I have seven.

Q – How do you maintain quality control at seven restaurants? You can only be at one restaurant at a time.
A – That’s correct. However, I’ve been very lucky finding (the) right people when I interview people, finding right chef, right managers. Just training everybody the way I want it. I try my best and it’s been working so far.

Q – Did you come up with this idea for a $1,000 pizza?
A – Yes.

Q – In these tough economic times, how much of a market place is there for that kind of a pizza?
A – Well, when I introduce it a couple of years ago, a little over a couple of years ago, it was moving very well. Last pizza I sold was 2 months ago, because a lot of people don’t go for expensive items.

Q – Before the economy turned bad, how many pizzas would you sell?
A – I was selling on average 3 to 5 pizzas a week.

Q – Who was buying a $1,000 pizza? Celebrities? Wall Street people?
A – It was a mix of buyers. Wall Street, neighborhood people, Westchester people. All mix.

Q – When a celebrity comes into your restaurant, do you have a VIP section for them to sit in?
A – Usually, they do request privacy. Pataki had his own table, his own corner. He was in my restaurant. One week he ate 5 nights in a row. Regis Philbin, same thing. He has his favorite table.

Q – How do you keep autograph seekers from approaching these tables? Do you have security?
A – No security. Customers know me. If they need to have an autographi advise them to go through me. I go first and ask the celebrity if they’re willing to sign. 99% of them are very friendly and will sign.

Q – You don’t sell your pizzas frozen to a supermarket do you?
A – No.

Q – If you want a pizza from Nino’s you have to get it fresh, on the premises.
A – Correct.

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