Dining With Cornell
Questions for James Mallios, Arts & Sciences, class of 1996, Co-Owner of Amali restaurant, and Kylie Monagan, School of Hotel Administration (Hotel School), class of 2013, Manager of Amali, Co-Owner of Amali Mou
James Mallios is not your traditional restaurateur. Prior to opening Amali, a sustainable Mediterranean restaurant in Manhattan, Mallios was a successful corporate lawyer. While on a sabbatical from practicing law, one of Mallios’ friends, a fellow Cornellian, who owned a number of hotels and commercial and residential real estate asked him if wanted to help open a restaurant in Wilmington, Delaware. Mallios boldly seized the opportunity. He fell in love with the business and never looked back. Thereafter, he opened Amali in November 2011. About four years later, he opened Amali Mou, a modern Greek restaurant, in September 2015. He often jokes that he “was the only Greek kid in Queens whose parents pay taxes and did not own a diner.” Now he can say that he owns a successful restaurant and brand.
Kylie Monagan is an emerging leader in the food and beverage industry who is quickly distinguishing herself from her peers. She is a manager at Amali and a profit sharing partner in Amali Mou.
How has Cornell prepared you for your career?
Mallios: The hallmark of a liberal arts education is that it teaches you how to think. Many people in the restaurant business do things a certain way because it has always been done that way. Entering the restaurant business from a liberal arts background, I approached hospitality and the associated business decisions from a different lens than someone who attended the Hotel School. For example, the way that Amali is organized and run is different from the path that a restaurant normally takes.
Also, the Cornell network is as good as it gets. It’s a huge impact on the business. Cornell people are very loyal. Amali is Cornell in many ways. For example, a Cornellian designed the restaurant, helped with the wine list, worked on the public relations and marketing for the restaurant, and serves as operations director. There literally is not one aspect of the restaurant that aCornellian has not touched.
Monagan: I was in the Hotel School for all four years. I learned everything from finance to wine, and how to deal with people and work as part of a group. I still look back at my notes. I still keep in touch with some professors. My experience was great from beginning to end.
What was the inspiration for Amali?
Mallios: The inspiration came from a restaurant that I like to go to in Greece that was not traditionally Greek. It was philosophically Greek in its aesthetic and what I know Greece to be: a very poor country that uses local food and hyper fresh ingredients because that is what people had access to. I wanted a restaurant that embodied that aesthetic, utilized sustainability practices, and had a respect for the environment.
How has Amali evolved since it opened?
Monagan: When I was an intern, it was really just James running the show, which he has always done very well. At that time, I couldn’t have even guessed the volume and reach that Amali has now: the numbers, wine list, and the development of the menu. Amali has really come into its own. We were able to leverage the name and open Amali Mou this past September. We have really found what makes Amali unique in a city full of too many restaurants.
Amali boasts a wine list of almost 400 selections. What is your favorite wine and food pairing? Do you have any go-to wines?
Mallios: If I were eating at the bar at Amali, I would probably drink a glass of rosé and be pretty happy. It is one of my favorite wines in all facets. We have a big rosé promotion during the summer.
Monagan: Greek wine is a huge differentiator for our wine list. People come here for our Greek wine program. We have great relationships with many Greek wine makers—some of which we dined with in Greece. For value, taste, trendiness, and pairing, Greek wine—both white and red—go with our menu and are a great option for buyers of all ages looking for different varietals and prices.
One of my favorite pairings is an organic or biodynamic wine, or a combination of the two, with our grilled fish or a heavy salad.
What was the inspiration for opening Amali Mou?
Monagan: Amali Mou is much more traditional Greek than Amali. We were inspired by our trip to Mykonos. The way that we make our gyro, which is our biggest seller, was specifically inspired by the different places we ate at in Mykonos. All our decisions—from playing disco music to the servers’ uniforms—was inspired by things we saw in Mykonos and Greece as well.
What has been the biggest surprise for you as a co-owner of a restaurant?
Mallios: It shocks me how callous and rude people are to people in the service industry. And how they assume that just because someone works in the service industry they are either not smart or worthy of basic dignity. These people do not last in this restaurant. We do not encourage that behavior.
Monagan: My biggest surprise is how fun it is to work on the floor sometimes. I am not on the floor as much I wish or use to be. But when I am on the floor and it is a busy Friday night, there’s wine flowing, I’m talking to people, helping servers, solving problems within five minutes, and everything is going well, it is so fun.
What is your favorite or most memorable memory of Cornell?
Mallios: Thematically, sitting on the back porch of my house on a sunny spring day listening to music, playing handball, and having a beer with good friends. My Cornell experience was defined by the friendships that I made and the people I hung out with while I was there.
Monagan: I worked for a catering company in high school. It was my whole life. I wasn’t involved in much else. And I was younger than everyone. I felt like an outsider at school and at my job. At Cornell, for once in my life everyone was interested in what I was interested in. Everyone was obsessed with food. So that was a good feeling.
***Interview has been condensed and edited.