Founded by two Egyptians, Mohamed Aldo and Moutaz Ali, New York based hot spot Pergola has become one of the foremost venues in the city, amassing an impressive celebrity clientele that includes Rihanna, Drake, and Shaquille O'Neal. Rahma Zein El Din speaks to the moguls to find out more.
We walk into upscale Mediterranean-themed New York restaurant and bar Pergola and are immediately stopped by an unusually large man at the entrance. His face looks incapable of any facial expression as he asks for our IDs and we oblige. When he sees that we are Egyptian he gives us a warm smile to our surprise. We are then beckoned in by a waitress who looks like she could be on the cover of a fashion magazine. We eye the delicious dishes being served, our eyes wandering to the second floor which looks more intimate. “What if we want to sit upstairs?” we ask. The waitress looks at us and apologizes saying that the upper floor is reserved. As soon as she says that we see an entourage of glamorous individuals streaming in and without word going up the stairs to the second floor - typical of New York City with the cool venues always having a space reserved for the super fly.
We sit watching as celebrities and the cool folk flock upstairs but find that in our own beautiful surrounding we are content as mere mortals for the night sitting on the first floor. Suddenly we hear our beloved language being spoken by a tall, dark and handsome man and naturally we are intrigued. Soon we find out that the tall man is indeed Egyptian and even more importantly, one of the owners…we bring out pen and notepad.
A former flower shop, the glamorous spot that is Pergola has made a name for itself on the New York nightlife scene as a blend of restaurant, bar, and lounge. It has also become the pre-party hot spot where movers and shakers of the city, including some major celebrities like Rihanna, Drake, and Flo Rida flock to. The venue is actually spearheaded by two brave Egyptians who left Egypt and ventured to the Big Apple to make it; Mohamed Aldo is calm and oozing charisma, his large demeanor owed to being a professional judo player, whilst Moutaz Ali is older, the sort that is not easily impressed and always on the alert. We speak to the two moguls to find out their story, from humble beginnings to becoming the men behind one of the most successful night life spots in New York…
Tell us about your life before New York, your family, where you lived and what you had always wanted...
Mohamed Aldo: My life in Cairo was completely different than the life I am living in New York. I am one of four children who was raised by a single mother. I grew up in Heliopolis where I spent most of my childhood practicing Judo at a local sports club.
Moutaz Ali: I’ve lived in New York for the past 20 years. Before New York, I lived in Cairo, Egypt. I grew up in Horreya School, and was in the National team for Volley ball.
Why New York?
Mohamed Aldo: Some teammates of mine had traveled to New York, and came back telling me amazing stories. I was intrigued and wanted to see for myself, not only New York but also a different country from where I was raised. I had hoped to continue my Judo career in the states.
Moutaz Ali: New York was convenient since the only person I knew in the US, lived in NY and promised to help me find a place to stay.
How was your journey in the big city?
Mohamed Aldo: My journey in the U.S. started very rough. At 18, my first job was a busboy at an Arabic coffee shop in Manhattan. Even though it was hard, I met amazing people who have been the foundation of my adult life. I spoke no English and had to find my way; it was the most challenging time of my life and sometimes I felt out of place but I never gave up. So after working for a year and a half as a busboy, I met someone who was working in the nightlife industry who offered me a position. I started working as a door man at a high end club. With my judo background it was something I found I enjoyed. I also worked for the Olsen twins as a private security assistant for two years. This opened doors for relationships with celebrities and athletes.
Moutaz Ali: New York is far from easy; it’s a heartless place that can chew you up and spit you out if you are not aware of yourself or if you get sloppy or careless. So I constantly kept on the alert searching for opportunities.
How did the idea of Pergola come about? What made you take the risk?
Mohamed Aldo: The idea of Pergola came from wanting something different from the NYC nightlife. I have worked in all sorts of clubs, filled with celebrities and famous faces. It began to feel fake and jaded. I wanted to create something clean, that people would enjoy, feeling themselves in a comfortable environment.
Moutaz Ali: I’ve been in the restaurant bar business since 2001 so I was pretty comfortable taking the risk, seeing that I’ve had time to see which places make it and Pergola is my third success story.
Who comes to Pergola? What makes them come to Pergola instead of other places?
Mohamed Aldo: We have a wide range of customers from super star athletes, artists, politicians, NBL players, NFL players, and celebrities. We’ve had everyone from from Rhianna to Shaquille O’Neal enjoy a night at Pergola. My personal connections bring them to Pergola and keep them coming because they feel comfortable
Moutaz Ali: Pergola became a known destination for New Yorkers; it’s got that attitude and sophistication. Pergola is a well-known celebrity destination as well. Professional athletes, music stars and well known public figures.
Describe Pergola in three words.
Mohamed Aldo: Elegant, chic and trendy
Moutaz Ali: Ambiance, quality and comfort.
New York is very cut throat, how do you plan on keeping Pergola the ‘it’ place?
Mohamed Aldo: It is successful because we are a group that understands New York City and what it needs. We all have different strengths that we bring together to build Pergola. We also want it to be a comfortable environment for every person that walks through the door. New York City is a cutthroat city, some say if you can’t make it here you won’t make it anywhere. We are always adapting to what our customers want and need. We often change the menu, drinks and décor with the seasons to make sure people are surprised when they walk in our door
Moutaz Ali: Pergola is the culmination of fifteen years in the business. We created a trendy place that represents our culture in a classy way and an environment appealing to people from all different backgrounds. Pergola had the most successful start out of every place I ever had.
What would you advise Egyptians who may want to do the same thing?
Mohamed Aldo: I would tell them to study and understand the industry. It takes time and effort and endless hours of hard work. Learn and watch by watching others, researching areas and be ready to take the risk.
Moutaz Ali: If they want to do the same thing in NY, they have to spend enough time here to get the feel of the city – the restaurant business is considered one the hardest businesses in New York; one out of every four restaurants make it to the second year. If they want to do it in Egypt, they should also spend enough time in the place to get the details of the operation. There is so much behind the scenes that made pergola successful.
Lastly, do you miss Egypt?
Mohamed Aldo: Egypt never left my heart. There is not one day that goes by that I don’t think of my childhood, my friends, and my family but I carry it with me and it has always been my strength.
Moutaz Ali: Egypt in my heart and mind, growing up in Egypt is an experience that I’d never trade for anything. There is nothing will make me more happy or proud than to see Egypt rise up to where it Belongs. I have no doubt in my mind that we are capable to do so. It’s just the fact that Egyptians were deprived from the opportunity and finally now we have a real shot. I’m optimistic.
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