When successful restaurateur Martin Whelan ’84CBA attended St. John’s University, the Vincentian mission took root inside him—and it has since found expression in the many and varied ways he serves his local community, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I put more value in the Vincentian mission now, but the seed was definitely planted during my St. John’s Catholic education,” he stressed.
In September, Mr. Whelan, who is President and Majority Partner in the Stout NYC Hospitality Group, heeded New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s urgent call for blood donations by starting the “Give a Pint, Get a Pint” campaign, and hosting blood drives at many of the group’s locations. Anyone who donated blood received a voucher for a free pint to be honored when the restaurants reopened. To date, more than 600 donations have been made, and more drives are being scheduled.
A graduate of Chaminade High School in Mineola, NY, Mr. Whelan preferred to stay home for college and saw St. John’s as a natural fit because it also allowed him to continue his Catholic education. Originally an Accounting major, Mr. Whelan quickly realized that was not his preferred career choice and switched to Marketing.
Immersing himself in student life, Mr. Whelan played rugby, a club sport, and through it made lifelong connections. “It is a huge part of why I love St. John’s. The guys I played with are some of my best friends. We stay in touch, and quite a few of us see each other on a regular basis. The great thing about staying home for school is the friends you make are always nearby.”
He added that he was an avid fan of the Men’s Basketball team. “I followed them wherever they went.”
Mr. Whelan’s first job out of college was with Ogilvy and Mather Advertising (now known as Ogilvy), and he felt his most important preparation for success was working multiple jobs while attending St. John’s. “During the school year, I worked at a liquor store on Horace Harding Boulevard, and then I got a second job delivering flowers for a florist a few doors down. Many St. John’s students worked throughout their time there. I think work experience and learning to balance it all are just as important as education,” he observed.
In 1974, Mr. Whelan’s parents opened Maggie’s Place in Manhattan, NY—and he eventually followed in their footsteps in the restaurant business. At 25, he opened a delicatessen in Queens, NY, which was soon followed by a pizzeria in the same neighborhood. In 1992, he succeeded his parents as the owner of Maggie’s Place.
Three years later, Mr. Whelan and two friends opened Trinity in Floral Park, NY. Shortly after, he and his brother Mark opened St. Andrews in the Theater District. In 2005, Martin and his partners opened the flagship Stout NYC located across the street from Madison Square Garden. Always willing to give back to alma mater, they have hosted at their restaurants pre- and post-game receptions during the basketball season and pre-parade alumni brunch on St. Patrick’s Day.
“The biggest challenge in my field, barring the pandemic, is the shrinking profit margins and government regulations,” Mr. Whelan stressed. “This makes it very hard to open your own business. As for breaking into the field as a career, there are plenty of opportunities if you are willing to work hard. The biggest challenge from that point of view is things can change very quickly, and you have to be able to adapt.”
As the owner of a dozen successful businesses in the New York City area, Mr. Whelan has made community involvement a priority. He and his partners support a large variety of local charities, including The New York Foundling, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Hope Lodge, and St. Baldrick’s Foundation. Mr. Whelan also serves on the board of the 34th Street Partnership, a nonprofit business improvement district dedicated to beautifying and maintaining the area it serves.
Recalling his days at St. John’s, Mr. Whelan noted, “There are things you can experience in New York City that you just cannot get anywhere else. Our strong alumni base is a great networking tool—there are so many of us. Additionally, going to see your college basketball team play at Madison Square Garden, the mecca of the sport, does not hurt.”