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How This Hip-Hop Industry Legend Created The Largest Black-Owned Restaurant Group in New York
Robert “Don Pooh” Cummins is a heavy hitter in the music industry. Throughout his career as a top executive, he has collaborated with a number of legendary hip-hop artists, such as Jay-Z, Sean “Diddy” Combs and The Notorious BIG. These days, Cummins entertains industry connections over meals at his creation Brooklyn Chop House, the largest Black-owned restaurant group in New York.
In 1999, Cummins was appointed Executive Vice President at the MCA Records. The record home of musical giants, like Mary J. Blige, Shaggy and The Roots. He also produced “No More Drama” album by Mary J. Blige. The record won her first Grammy award and sold 7 million copies worldwide.
Though Cummins earned a reputation as an industry mover and shaker, he desired to continue bettering himself. As a result, he pivoted from music to food. He landed a 16-store development agreement with Papa John’s for their New York region. The hip-hop icon also successfully secured another major franchise development agreement to construct and run multiple IHOPs in the New York area for seven years. His first IHOP restaurant was ranked number 1 among all 1,400 United States-based restaurants. Later, he would go on to open three more locations.
In 2018, he opened Brooklyn Chop House, featuring 5,000 square feet of space filled with a whopping 150 tables. As for the food, its succulent dry-aged prime steaks are second to none, ranging from porterhouse to bone-in rib eye. The restaurant is also popular for turning diner classics, such as French onion soup or Philly cheesesteak, into dumplings. This new invention went viral on social media.
Cummins is a heavyweight in the music industry, and he is taking the food industry by storm. His New York eatery has been dubbed one of the top restaurants by food connoisseurs since its inception. Travel Noire had the opportunity to chat with Cummins about his career, including his memorable meeting with Prince, how music drives his food business and his expert advice for fellow Black entrepreneurs.
Travel Noire: Between the two industries, which would you say has been most enjoyable for you to work in thus far?
Robert Cummins: Music and entertainment go hand in hand. I have spent so much time working with artists and music executives over lunch, dinner and late-night dining that I would say the combination. Everyone is happy when eating and listening to music.
TN: How do you celebrate music at Brooklyn Chop House?
RC: The generation of the hip-hop industry I come from shares love and support like no other. It’s how we all got to where we are. As we all grow within the industry and other career paths, we continue to support each other. Our relationships are how we evolve. These talented music artists and celebrities show so much love for Brooklyn Chop House by celebrating special moments, dinners, meetings [and] birthdays under our roof. We live by exactly how Biggie said it, ‘Spread Love — it’s the Brooklyn Way.’
TN: Who has been your favorite celebrity to visit your restaurant?
RC: That is very hard to say.
I have a love for everyone that dines at Brooklyn Chop House, but, to name a few, Mary J. Blige, Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, Diddy, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Hart, Cardi B and Offset.
TN: As a hip-hop legend, you’ve mingled with many celebrities. Which celebrity were you still starstruck to meet at your restaurant?
RC: I am not one to be starstruck based on living and breathing this industry, but a time that stands out to me is when I met Prince. At the time, I had a Maybach, and a friend was working with Prince. He requested to be driven around in a Maybach, so I lent his driver mine. Prince was showcasing a new artist at The Darby in NYC. When it was over, we all left together to the next spot, and the icing on the cake was being with Michael Jackson in his studio.
TN: You talked about pivoting to the food industry to diversify your portfolio. What about that industry made you want to try it out? Did you have prior experience? Were you inspired by a loved one?
RC: Entertaining and dining out felt like a natural transition. I am always out for meetings, so it was a perfect segway to create and design my restaurants.
TN: What is your advice to Black professionals looking to pivot careers?
RC: Try to find something you are passionate about. Do your research. Find someone, for example a successful mentor, within the industry you are interested in. Read, secure information and do an internship, or a few, to discover if it is your passion. In your career, do not be afraid to ask questions. Information is wealth.
TN: Are you aware of any resources available to Black entrepreneurs looking to break into the restaurant space? If so, what?
RC: There is a lot of traditional financing. Also, SBA lending programs are available for new business owners.
TN: Some say a business partner can do more harm than good, but you’ve proven them wrong by building a successful restaurant group with yours. What should be considered before committing to a partner to prevent future disputes?
RC: Find partners that can each bring something different to the table. One can be focused on marketing, while another focuses on operations. This way, everyone is not bumping heads.
This article has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.