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James Mallios: Setting New Standards in the Restaurant Industry

It’s said that with high risk comes a high reward. That, if we take chances on things we believe in, it can pay off in unimaginable ways. These sentiments encompass James Mallios’s life perfectly. The restaurateur and owner of Civetta Hospitality was practicing employment law before deciding to work at a friend’s restaurant in Delaware. After gaining a decade’s experience in the restaurant industry, Mallios decided to launch Civetta in mid-2020.  

Civetta currently has four restaurants under its umbrella: the newly opened Juniper at The Vanderbilt in Westbury; Mediterranean eatery Amali in Midtown; seaside restaurant Bar Marseille in the Rockaways, and Calissa in Water Mill, which has been dubbed the “Mykonos in the Hamptons.”

Expanding During the Pandemic

Although Amali is approaching its 10-year anniversary and Calissa opened in 2017,  Juniper was in various stages of development; opening during the COVID-19 pandemic. “If I had my pick, I would not have opened during a pandemic,” Mallios states. “Opening a bar that’s near a beach during the pandemic is not recommended. You have to be a restaurant savant or something—it’s not advisable. Let’s just say I would not choose to repeat that.”

Civetta, much like the entire restaurant industry, faced a huge amount of unpredictability in the midst of the pandemic. Mallios states, “The constant flip-flopping was actually more aggravating than a more draconian method.” Through it all, he took an approach that was assumably avoided by many within the industry: “For us, one thing we’ve always taken into perspective is that we will always be offensive and never defensive.

A Different Direction

When explaining how he navigated through such an unprecedented time in the restaurant business, Mallios states Civetta could’ve prepared to move faster than the rest of the industry or fall to the unpredictability of the pandemic like so many other restaurants. Not only did Civetta open two restaurants, but Mallios gave his staff guaranteed wages amid the labor shortage. “We never let go of our PR people and we paid our workers and vendors,” Mallios says. “In hindsight, it was the better decision.”

Broadway Out East & Calissa Sounds

Whether it’s innovation or risk-taking (you be the judge) Mallios and Civetta are setting the bar for what is possible for restaurants in the post-pandemic era. Civetta launched two concert series at Calissa this summer: Broadway Out East and Calissa Sounds. Both music series gives artists who would usually be busy with summer festivals or Broadway productions the opportunity to perform for Hamptonites in an experience that feels like it’s happening right in their backyards.

Broadway Out East was produced by Dear Evan Hansen concertmaster Justin Smith, who kicked off the show with Clay Aiken. Broadway and television star Brandon Victor Dixon recently graced the stage and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Broadway great Tituss Burgess is set to perform on September 2nd. Mallios says, “With Brandon Victor Dixon, people came out and they were not just thanking us for a good time, but legitimately thanking us for doing this. They were thanking us for bringing Brandon to the Hamptons”

Calissa Sounds is an eight-week live-music series, co-produced by Civetta and BCL Entertainment. The series kicked off this summer with a performance from Wyclef Jean. Questlove performed and Rev Run X Ruckus are set to perform tonight; DJ Cassidy will spin on August 27th. “Calissa is small, and for someone like Wyclef or Questlove to play is a big deal,” Mallios exclaims. “Questlove DJed for two hours and was contracted for just one!”

Always Prepared

Looking forward, Mallios wants to make sure everything is stabilized with Juniper. Mallios states, “I wouldn’t do anything until our new restaurant is good. It’s like a baby, I want to let it grow a little bit.” He’s also heavily involved with political issues involving restaurants, ensuring that he is as ready as possible for whatever comes next for the industry. He explains that the livelihood of many depends on these businesses to survive: “They can’t repeat the patchwork of decisions they did the last time around,” Mallios states.