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Teammates Once Again

January 27, 2014

Teammates Once Again

By David O’Brian (dobrian@binghamton.edu)
Binghamton Sports Information Office

Synopsis: They were only teammates for one year, on the Binghamton wrestling squad during the 1996-97 season. But the friendship formed back then by Dan Polhamus and Jose Moreira is now on display as the owners of locally-owned Food & Fire Restaurant.

Seventeen years ago, Dan Polhamus and Jose Moreira were teammates on the Binghamton University wrestling team. Moreira was a freshman while Polhamus was a senior transfer from SUNY Brockport. Although they were together for one year, Polhamus and Moreira would become lifelong friends. Little did that they would eventually be reunited as teammates – this time in the work place.

During the recent holiday season, Polhamus and Moreira and their business partner Jeff Tiderencel opened up Food & Fire Restaurant, which is located less than three miles from campus. Both have had accomplished careers since they graduated from the University. Opening up a new restaurant, however, has brought them back together and has taken the concept of being teammates to a whole new level.

Coming to Binghamton

Polhamus and Moreira each took a different path to Binghamton in the fall of 1996. Polhamus, who grew up in Binghamton, played football for SUNY Brockport his first three years in college but wanted to move back home and graduate locally. He also wanted to walk-on to the wrestling team. Moreira, meanwhile, was being recruited by several schools but chose Binghamton for both its School of Management and strong wrestling program.

Both of them have vivid memories of their first meeting. Polhamus, for one, had not wrestled in several years. Needless to say, the first part of the season was a major adjustment.

“Dan was very out of shape and during the preseason, we were running six miles during workouts,” Moreira said. “We thought he was a great guy but he was so out of shape and we thought he would never make it. But he stuck with it, got down to 177 pounds and during the last part of the season, he ended up starting. It was a great story because he really persevered. He also became a great friend to everyone on the team.”

“Even though he was only a freshman, Jose had a good way of rallying people around him,” Polhamus said. “I was wondering where I fit in on the team and he made me feel welcomed. He has as strong personality and strong leadership. Even at a very young age, he had a way of making people feel good.”

Both of them graduated from the University not only armed with a degree but also with the experience of having been part of the Binghamton wrestling team.

“Being a part of the program gave us an advantage,” Moreira said. “In terms of discipline, goal setting and the structured day that you have, being a part of the wrestling team gave us a mental edge over most people. It helped us in everyday life during tough situations.”

“It was unique being a part of the wrestling program, Polhamus said. “You do your own personal battle with one other person during a match but you also have to think about what your role is on the team when you are out there. That personal drive you get from being a wrestler coupled with still being a brother-in-arms with a whole bunch of other guys is really unique. In the business world, and in real life, you have that same self awareness about what you need to do to succeed and also what your role is when you are on a good team.”

Divergent Paths

Following graduation, Moreira stayed in the Binghamton area. He interned with Cleaner’s Supply in nearby Conklin while he was still an undergraduate and was able to get a full-time position within the company. After 13 years with the company, Moreira started up his own consulting business in the area in 2012. On a personal note, he married Felicia Melarkey in 2009. She played softball at Binghamton and graduated in 2001.

“I had a lot of people I knew here when I graduated and my brother was still going to school here,” he said. “Felicia and I knew of each other when we were students because all of the athletes at Binghamton pretty much knew each other and supported each other. But we became closer friends after I graduated.”

Polhamus, meanwhile, relocated to Richmond, where he eventually worked for Marriott. In the back of his mind, however, he and his wife had wanted to move back to Binghamton if the right job opened up. That job, as it turned out, was in the university’s Alumni Office in 2006.

“I always stayed involved as an alumnus,” he said. “So when the job in the Alumni Office opened up, it was like the perfect storm. We got to move back home and I got to work for a place that I love.”

Through the years, Polhamus had developed a strong friendship with Jeff Tiderencel, who he first met back in the mid-1990s. Polhamus had been working at Ruby Tuesday’s, a company Tiderencel would also work with for nearly two decades. They both shared common interests in the restaurant business, which would eventually play a significant role in the opening of Food & Fire.

“We both stayed in touch when Dan moved to Richmond,” Tiderencel said. “We always had the same love for restaurants and fine beers, wines and food. When Dan moved back to the area, we always seemed to be the two around the grill cooking at gatherings. Jose was at many of those events and the three of us really hit it off.”

Making A Dream A Reality

Moreira, Polhamus and Tiderencel were all successful in their lines of work. Still, their dream was to someday open a restaurant that would combine all of their professional and personal strengths.

“It was always kind of discussed as a pipe dream,” Polhamus said. “Everybody thinks that because they can do a great backyard barbeque, they can open a restaurant but we knew there was a lot more. We always thought that this location we are in would be the best spot. But we never thought it would be open for someone to buy. Last February, however, there was a property opening here and it was like fate was calling us out.”

The property in Johnson City had become available but that’s when the work really began for the three of them. The months leading up to the opening were filled with extensive fact findings and investigations.

“The way we got here was a though combination of determining what was lacking in the Binghamton area combined with a lot of market research,” Polhamus said. “We did research on everything from how many cars go by this location to focus groups on what kind of food people are interested in. After a lot of time and discussion, we decided to go with the combination of craft beer and barbeque, because we felt that was something the local area was lacking.”

If there was one part of the process of opening Food & Fire that brought out the lessons learned from being a student-athlete, however, it was planning out the menu.

“The menu was a long, drawn out process,” Tiderencel said. “We started at three pages and had to scale it down to one. Jose had to have his nachos, I had to have fresh chicken and Dan had to have oysters. As you can see, none of those items are on the actual menu. What we found is that after we all did our sample menus, we had to come to some agreements.”

“You talk about teamwork and sacrifice, we all sacrificed the menu items that we thought we needed to have,” Moreira said. “It didn’t happen through a lot of fighting. We realized it was a team thing. It was just like being on the wrestling team, when someone has to wrestle up a weight class to create more favorable matchups and giving the team a better chance to win the meet. It’s a good metaphor to what we did in hammering out the menu. As a team, we wanted the menu that would help our business the most.”

“Such A Big Part of Who We Are”

Food & Fire’s current menu features beef brisket, chicken and pork barbeque along with St. Louis ribs. Its Facebook site has over 5,000 fans and the online reviews have singled out other items such as the wings, chili and bacon-wrapped jalapenos among top things to order.

Through the extensive process of opening the restaurant, Polhamus and Moreira have been able to navigate through the unknowns that come with opening a new business. Both of them can trace the roots of their success in part to being a Binghamton student-athlete nearly two decades ago.

“Being on that team taught me a lot about mental strength,” Polhamus said. “Back then, I went through the process of school, training and losing the weight and learning time management and goal setting. More than any other job that I’ve had, the concept of teamwork I learned from being part of the wrestling team has applied to being a restaurant owner.”

After training at Binghamton’s West Gym for many hours as student-athletes, it means a lot to both of them to be going into business less than three miles away.

“Binghamton University means so much to us,” Moreira said. “We knew that if we ever opened a restaurant, it would be here in the area. Being student-athletes there was such a big part of who we are. So to be in business so close is a chance for us to help the local community through job creation and using local suppliers. It’s worked out perfect.”

Polhamus and Moreira are once again teammates. If anyone can appreciate their bond, it’s their fellow owner Tiderencel.

“Their friendship is amazing,” Tiderencel said. “They feed off each other. They are the same but they are different. Jose’s strengths are Dan’s weaknesses and vice versa. Their friendship is unique and you can tell off the bat, just the way they interact with each other. That what makes our group as special as it is.”

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