Paul Abrahamian and Jon Sherman were both 26 when they decided to open Sticky’s Finger Joint in Manhattan, just north of New York University in Washington Square Park. It’s only been open since April (three months at this writing) and already they’ve been featured on a Bobby Flay’s Food Network hit show 3 Days To Open, (see the episode here) turned down a 7-figure offer for their brand, and have entertained multiple investors interested in their expansion.
“We’ve had a lot of offers, some serious and some not so serious. We’re taking it day by day right now,” Jon says comfortably.
Sticky’s specialty is chicken finger creations, rotating over 30 flavors and toppings incuding Wasabi Finger, Salted Caramel Pretzel, General Sticky Tso, and the Caveman. (wrapped in bacon!) They only use “antibiotic free, hormone free, cruelty free free-range chicken” and promise to be the “greatest chicken finger you have ever had in your life.” Their Yelp reviews seem to agree.
I start lobbing questions at them about their business plan, cooking background, and restaurant experience. “We didn’t have any of that,” Jon says. “We found something we knew we were passionate about and learned as we went. If you have a vision all you need is to be smart enough to figure it out.”
Looking for opportunities, Paul Abrahamian, a technology venture capitalist, and Jonathan Sherman, a hedge fund analyst, decided the one thing NYC needed and didn’t have was a chicken finger shop. “It’s the one thing everyone loves and yet no one specializes in,” Jon says with the obviousness it deserves. “We want to be ‘New York’s Chicken Finger’,” Paul adds. Hearing about Melt Shop, an NYC grilled cheese restaurant, really supported their beliefs that you don’t need a groundbreaking idea to be successful.
From the moment they decided they were going to move forward with the idea until it opened took 9 months. “Things moved fast. The first thing we did was start making recipes in the kitchen, everyday for weeks.” Paul simultaneously began calling everyone he could in the TV industry to pitch an idea for a concept to film the opening of their restaurant. A month later Bobby Flay came calling. Next came looking for a location and they needed to find it fast before the show started filming. “The spot we ended up in turned out really well. We originally were looking at a place in the East Village but the owner wanted a lot of unreasonable terms in the lease so we backed off.”
This tenacity will not be surprising once you meet the face of Sticky’s, Paul, now 27, who is one of the most outgoing, sociable people I’ve ever met. He immediately introduces himself to anyone walking in and seems to be on a first name basis with all of their repeat customers. His minds works a million ideas a minute and he dreams big. To balance his intensity is his partner, Jon, the mellow and even-keeled yin to his yang. The two have known each other since 6th grade, growing up in northern New Jersey.
While talking with Jon, Paul quickly sizes up the wall behind us. “I think I’m going to put these pictures up here. What do you think?” Paul agrees without even looking. “I trust him. We think and see differently. We have different strengths.” So they get along all the time and don’t argue? “No, we argue all the time. It’s always stupid things but we get over it quickly. The menu and pricing was the toughest.” Mistakes are made, or rather lessons are learned, and adjustments are made moving forward. They’ve already completely revamped their pricing model once.
They admit the TV show with Bobby Flay was a great experience but find it far from necessary to their, or anyone else’s, success. As with any “reality” show, much of it is not what it appears to be though the exposure is always welcome.
What’s next for the duo? “Moving onto location two and three has always been on our radar,” Jon says with his typical reasoned approach. Without missing a beat, Paul follows up, “I want a brand for our line of sauces.” Had I not just spent time with them I may have underestimated the power of their ambitions.
If you’ve been to Sticky’s we’d love to hear your feedback in the comments section.