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Mangia Nashville: Interview with Nick Pellegrino

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In part one of this series,  I told y’all I had the time of my life, twice, at Mangia Nashville, that Italian restaurant named Best Weekly Food Event in Nashville, where you, too, can experience your very own Big Night.

We ate, we sang, we danced, we celebrated life!

Perhaps some of you are wondering about the chef, this Nick Pellegrino fellow, who hosts such awesome evenings for his guests. What’s this guy like? What makes him do what he does?

I’ve got all the answers you need, since Nick was kind enough to take a moment away from making all that good food to talk with me about who he is, what he does, and the hopes and dreams he has for Mangia Nashville.

Here’s the interview:

Susan: I had such a fabulous visit, both times I  visited Mangia Nashville! Tell my readers a little bit about your background as a musician, and then about your culinary background, and how Mangia came to be.
Nick: I actualy have a degree in Classical Guitar Performance. I’ve been performing professionally since the age of 14 when I started playing guitar in clubs on the weekends. Fortunately all the other guys in the band were much older and nobody ever asked me for ID. Since then I have toured with artists as a bass player or guitar player. I’ve done studio work as a session player and from there started to produce. I wrote and produced Paula Deen’s wedding song and even performed it on her Wedding Special for the Food Network. I’ve also sung a bunch of Jingles over the years. Many for TV and radio stations, car dealerships, the Tennessee Lottery and many more. If you are a video game fan and happen to have Madden 10′ all of the crowd chants at the games are me. My younger nephews thought that was the coolest thing ever. Obviously there was no time for Culinary School but after coming off the road from  a long tour one summer I reconnected with a friend from High School that happend to have a degree from The Culinary Institute Of America in Hyde Park, NY. He was a huge music fan and wanted to learn how to play guitar. We would get together in the afternoons and I would teach him to play and he taught me to cook. He was pretty hard on me and made learn things the right way, the way he was taught. He gave me a great understanding for how and why things work in the kitchen and what to do if they go wrong. So I always tell people I got a second hand CIA education and it didn’t cost me a dime! From there we actually went on to open a small catering business together and did that for 3 years. That’s were I really got my hands on experience and feel like I realy learned how to be a chef.
After that I decided to get back to my music career and made the move to Nashville. Before I secured my first staff writer position with a publisher here I worked for Tom Kats Catering. I worked as a chef back stage at Starwood Amphitheatre and from there went on to be the chef on the Broadway Dinner Train. I did all that for about 2 years till I was able to support myself from music alone which I did for the last 16 years here in Nashville.
Mangia Nashville was just an idea that I threw out at a New Years Eve dinner 2 years ago at some very close friends’ home. I said I didn’t really want a restaurant but wouldn’t it be fun if we had a place where I would cook maybe once a month and people would come like they were coming to my home. There would be great food, music and maybe even dancing. They all thought it was a great idea but how do you make something like that work? A week later I went to see a good friend that I had worked with years back at another caterer here in town. Tim Ness had a very successful Meat and Three, the Cool Cafe in Franklin. When I told him my idea his response was, “I’m closed on Saturday nights let’s just try it here.”  Two weeks later we did a test run for about 20 friends and they all agreed we needed to do this. We opened for business 3 weeks after that and the rest has  been magic. The press started rolling in and we went from selling 40 seats every Saturday to 75 then we added every other Friday and ultimately every Friday as well. Now we stay sold out both nights 2-3 months out. The response has been just incredible and has all been by word of mouth, Facebook and Twitter.  We are always trying to make what we do better each time you come back. We’ve added more singing and dancing and people really get to participate in the fun. Yes, it get’s loud but have you ever had dinner with a big Italian family? Trust me Mangia is not nearly as loud!
Susan: What’s one thing about yourself that nobody ever asks about, but that you wish more people knew?
Nick: I think most people know my story since I get to tell it every night when I visit each table. I don’t think everyobody knows that I am a singer and a musician although many think I am a drummer when they see me play the spoons on the prep table. I am also learning to ballroom dance which has been a lot of fun for me. A few of our wait staff are actualy professional dancers and instructors. We are in the midst of expanding our space to add more tables and of coruse a bigger area to dance! I’ve got a Mambo number worked out that may surprise a lot of people. Have they had a chef on Dancing With The Stars yet? Hmmmm…
This chef can cut a rug, as well as a beef tenderloin. 

Susan: YOU make it such a special place: it really is the Nick Pellegrino Show, and you make it a party worth going to. Can’t imagine it being near as much fun without you. Any plans for the future?

Nick: I think that a great party needs a catalyst to get things going. At Mangia I am that guy. I love to have a good time and encourage others to do the same.  I have a wonderful staff that helps make it happen. My goal is to get more and more talented peopled to work with us so that it’s not only one person leading the festivities every night. Maybe we can open a chain of Mangia Nashvilles and just have me on a big screen live leading the sing alongs and dances. There’s a thought. 
I’ve also got some TV ideas in the works that I think would be a lot of fun.The possibillities are all endless right now. It’s just about choosing the right ones that make sense for us and won’t take anything away from the experience that we have built here.
“I can mash potato. I can do the twist. Tell me bay-bay. Do you like it like this?”
I haven’t squatted that low since I gave birth out in the fields.
Susan: Tell us about the products you have for sale. Where can someone purchase them?

Nick: The first product that we have for sale is our Mangia Mayo. Mangia Mayo is an all natural, low fat, low sodium, gluten free roasted garlic fresh basil ailoi. We usually serve with our Lemon Risotto cakes as an appetizer each night but you can and should put it on anything. I think people will quickly get hooked once they realize all of it’s different uses. It’s available only at Cool Cafe right now but we are working on Whole Foods locally and then who knows where it can take us. We also have plans to start jarring a few of our pasta sauces as well. Right now the focus is on Mangia Mayo. I am a firm believer in doing one thing very well first before you move on to the next. I never want quality to suffer for growth.
Mangia Mayo
Susan: What new items are you planning for your summer menu?
 Nick: A few things you will see on our Summer menu will be. Sausage and Peppers ( we make our own sweet fennell Italian sausage), Filet of Flounder Rolatini, Fresh Mozzarella (also made in house) and Local Tomato Caprese Salad. I’m really excited about one of our desserts for Summer. Watermelon and Basil Granita. I just made a batch for the staff to sample this past week and we all went nuts over it. I will be posting the full menu on facebook this week!
(Here endeth the interview. Amen.)
My thanks to Nick for sharing his love of life and food with the good people of Nashville as well as with our visiting friends from around the world. Especially, I’d like to thank him for sharing his thoughts here on this blog, with my readers. 
Livin’ large, at Mangia Nashville.

I received absolutely no compensation for either of my posts on Mangia Nashville, unless you count the awesome experiences we had there, which were…well…they were priceless, right?

Hope you enjoyed learning more about Mangia Nashville. You should follow the link here to contact Nick for reservations, or to read the new summer menu, once it goes up.

Do you have something coming up in your life that is worthy of celebrating at Mangia Nashville? Tell me in the comments what you’d like to celebrate at a place like Mangia.