Studying up on Frida Kahlo can come in handy in the kitchen.
Billy Peelle, a 2005 College graduate, double majored in art history and political science before delving into hospitality and eventually restaurant management — which he says his Penn education made possible.
“I think what I’ve learned is the opportunities out there — how much Penn has to offer,” he said in a phone interview. “What helped me was looking at all the options I have. I know at first glance that [my degrees don’t] seem like they would help much, but all the things I learned are now applicable.”
He served as a lecturer at Penn’s Mentoring Meal event on April 1, where he spoke to students about his experiences in the industry.
Following his graduation, Peelle worked for the Ritz Carlton in Philadelphia before deciding to focus on the restaurant industry. He moved to New York, where he began in the kitchen of Eleven Madison Park , moving up from server to captain. The restaurant has racked up three Michelin Stars, four James Beard Awards and has been named on countless “best of” lists.
After his tenure at Eleven Madison Park, Peelle opened a sister restaurant and hotel, NoMad , with chef Daniel Humm and Will Guidara . NoMad opened in 2012 and has already earned one Michelin Star and glowing endorsements from The New York Times . He has since returned to Eleven Madison Park as its service director.
When asked if he is interested in opening other establishments, Peelle’s answer is immediate: “If another opportunity comes up, definitely.” Though he has chosen New York as the epicenter for his work thus far, he has not ruled out the possibility of moving to other cities. Philadelphia is included among his prospects, particularly if he can find a space near his alma mater.
“You always have to be open to more ideas. I’m not sure if the people I’m working with right now are interested in moving down to Philly, but I definitely am,” he said. “Especially with the growth down [in University City] — places like Drexel have gotten so much bigger — it would pretty much be a dream come true.”
As he contemplates the idea of returning to where his career in hospitality began, Peelle has a few words for any students at Penn who are interested in entering the restaurant industry. He warns that one should not expect instantaneous success and should instead be open to any possible opportunities that come along.
“I think a lot of people I met didn’t start in the most glamorous of places — they just took what they could find,” he added. “You definitely have to start in the kitchen. You don’t just start as a manager; you have to work your way up. You just have to get your foot in the door and see what happens from there.”