When he was a backup running back for the Steelers, Amos Zereoue started teaching himself how to cook just so he wouldn’t eat McDonald’s and microwave dinners every single night. A decade later, he’s helping make dinner for hundreds, the owner of a popular Affican/French bistro in New York’s Midtown district.
(Famous Amos, now with chef’s hat.)
Zereoue’s shift to restaurateur is one of the more unique transitions for former NFL players, though his transition is unique because of the restaurant’s style. Make no mistake, Zereoue — the restaurant, not the former player — is a four-star joint that caters to an elite clientele, not a sports bar near a football stadium, its proximity to Madison Square Garden not withstanding.
“We have to be different,” said Zereoue. “What’s new, what is different from the rest. I thought that was different. I didn’t want a sports bar with just burgers. I wanted something classy, high end type of thing. I didn’t want them to think from the name that it had just a sports theme. I wanted to get away from that.”
The approach is different and, so far, the results seem to be different, too. Rather than a significant portion of the sports bars opened by former stars, Zereoue’s bistro is succeeding not because of who he is, but because of what the restaurant is itself.
Zereoue wanted his food to be different, which he’s delivered by focusing on much of the culinary flavor of his native Cote D’ Ivore (Ivory Coast). The reviews on popular NYC foodie site MENUPAGES are largely positive, though the eclectic nature of Zereoue’s menu — he typically has more than 50 items per day — creates frustration when some aren’t made or sold out early. Zereoue also faced 10 violation points from health inspectors earlier this year, though those all came for particularly minor violations of code.
That doesn’t seem to hurt the crowds, which Zereoue said are particularly busy when West Virginia plays at Madison Square Garden or when the Steelers are in town. But Zereoue, who’s put on more than 10 pounds since entering the business, says that its his food that makes his restaurant different and successful, even though his former teammates have been successful by using the more traditional sports bar format back in Pittsburgh. As he told the CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL:
Some of his old football buddies and fans have stopped by to try the food, including his old Steelers pal, Jerome Bettis. Bettis has his own restaurant near Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. But Zereoue said there’s no rivalry.
“His is more of a sports bar.”
If we read that correctly, that’s a nice little dig by Amos. But who needs a rivalry, anyway, when you have a successful business? We’ll see how long Bettis’s bar is financially solvent, but if it lasts longer than Zereoue’s restaurant, it would be a surprise.