An Electrical Draftsman and Salesman, James Famularo was Primed for CRE

James Famularo. (Aaron Adler)
James Famularo. (Aaron Adler)

James Famularo is so much a part of the restaurant world’s fabric that chef Michael Guerrieri named a sandwich after him.

Mr. Famularo’s namesake hero, James, is served at City Sandwich for $9.95. Sadly, Mr. Famularo has never tried it since he’s not a fan of roast beef. But last week he ticked off a number of other sandwiches he loves at the eatery, which has a special place in his heart.

After all, Mr. Famularo found Mr. Guerrieri the Hell’s Kitchen space at 649 Ninth Avenue between 45th and 46th Streets that became home to City Sandwich in October 2010. And Mr. Guerrieri is clearly grateful.

“All the sandwiches are named after people who touched me in their own special ways and helped make it all fall together,” Mr. Guerrieri said. “[It’s] my way of saying thanks to everyone.”

City Sandwich isn’t a regular haunt for Mr. Famularo as he works on the East Side, at Eastern Consolidated, which he joined in January as a managing director, heading up a five-person retail leasing team. He considered opening his own firm after leaving NYCRS following a 10-year run there but decided it would be easier to join Eastern than spend years building up his own company. At the end of the day, Mr. Famularo likes to do deals, not get involved in the minutiae of running a business.

He credits Adelaide Polsinelli, a senior director at Eastern who handles building sales, with convincing him to join the firm.

“I had met [James] a while ago through a mutual friend and was very impressed,” Ms. Polsinelli said. “He was very tenacious and extremely knowledgeable. He reminded me of the typical New York expert in restaurants. He knew everybody’s restaurants, who owned them and what was going on with them.”

His business has boomed since making the leap.

“The difference between being with a small firm and a big firm … I thought it would make a little difference, [but] it makes a big one,” Mr. Famularo said.

He has been highly active in the Hell’s Kitchen restaurant and bar scenes, having brought in several venues to Ninth Avenue between 45th and 54th Streets. They include (co-owner Justin Timberlake’s) Southern Hospitality, the shuttered Ember Room, Fuel Grill & Juice Bar and Atlas Social Club, a gay bar from Ben Maisani (also known as Anderson Cooper’s boyfriend).

“Restaurant Row used to be on 46th Street, and with the population explosion and the hike of rents, that whole strip just kind of exploded at the seams,” Mr. Famularo said. “Now with the [residential] development going along 10th, 11th and 12th Avenues” and the commercial development on Eighth and Seventh Avenues as well as Broadway, “it’s like the two converge on Ninth Avenue.”

Another part of Manhattan that excites Mr. Famularo is East 57th Street. He thinks The World-Wide Group’s $600 million luxury condominium development at 250-252 East 57th Street will “change the cityscape.” And that project is close to home for him, literally, as Mr. Famularo, 45, and his family reside in The Mondrian, at 250 East 54th Street.

Despite rosy predictions for that and other corridors, Mr. Famularo isn’t naive when it comes to the vicissitudes of the restaurant business. He cited the popular wisdom that within the first 24 months of business, restaurateurs have an 80 percent chance of failure while after 24 months, those still open have an 80 percent chance of enduring success. The No. 1 reason for failure, he said, is a dearth of funding.

Sixty percent of Mr. Famularo’s deals involve restaurants, clubs, bars and lounges, but he doesn’t spend a lot of time frequenting the establishments beyond their grand openings. He said he used to go restaurant and club hopping before he got married in 2005, but now he wants to be hangover-free and clearheaded for his 12- to 15-hour workdays.

Mr. Famularo started his real estate career in 2000 on the residential side at what became DJK Residential, followed by two years at Citi Habitats. He realized that commercial real estate was a better fit for him after helping a childhood friend find space for a juice bar.

Mr. Famularo grew up in the Bergen Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn before his family moved to Little Italy when he was 15 years old. Perhaps that New York upbringing gave him his no-nonsense style that some say reminds them of Jeff Winick, the tough broker who leads Winick Realty Group. (Mr. Famularo is nicer, they added.)

“He knows everybody,” said Rafe Evans, the senior vice president at Walker Malloy & Company who co-represented the landlord with Mr. Famularo in a deal at 447 Amsterdam Avenue for The Meatball Shop. “He’s very charismatic. He grew up in Little Italy, so his connections are deep and wide. People like him. He has an instinctive knowledge of the market and has a helluva good work ethic. He’s a really strong broker because of those things.”

Real estate professionals also appreciate Mr. Famularo’s Brooklyn street smarts.

“James is a Brooklyn guy. And coming from the Bronx I can relate to that,” said William Abramson, a director of sales and leasing at Buchbinder & Warren Realty Group. Mr. Famularo negotiated deals at 195 Bleecker Street and 379 Third Avenue, buildings whose landlords Mr. Abramson represented.

Mr. Famularo joined the Real Estate Board of New York’s retail committee months ago after Mr. Abramson wrote him a recommendation for the group.

“I think he’s knowledgeable,” Mr. Abramson said. “He understands the market. He knows how to get a deal done, and he’s just a nice guy.”

Despite plaudits from industry pros, Mr. Famularo didn’t always envision a career in real estate. He attended a vocational high school called William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School in Brooklyn so that he could become an electrical draftsman like his father. He didn’t think college was for him, so he only attended some night classes, a decision he regrets now that he plans for his two sons, aged 6 and 7, to graduate from college.

“My father was in that business,” Mr. Famularo said. “I assumed I’d like it. I did it for eight years. I knew I didn’t like it.”

Having found a career he quite likes, Mr. Famularo’s goal this year is to shoot for a hundred deals. (He averaged 46 or 47 deals last year, when he was still working solo.) While he is a retail-leasing broker, he also does a fair amount of building sales. He said he has probably sold 60 buildings in his career, and he has four building sales exclusives now.

Mr. Guerrieri praised Mr. Famularo for how personable and professional he was when negotiating a deal for City Sandwich.

Building the foundation of any project is of the utmost importance,” Mr. Guerrieri wrote in an email. “Part of that foundation is working with a real estate broker who takes the time to take you to lunch and asks the right initial questions and not your usual ‘What do you have to spend?’ It’s about getting to know you first, where your heart is. If you are fortunate enough to work with a person who teams up with your soul, chances are you won’t need to shop around for long.”

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