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Alum Restaurateur Fulfilled His Dream in the Neighborhood

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Chris Nardelli behind the bar at Blue44
Photo courtesy of Chris Nardelli

You may have heard about Chris Nardelli’s restaurant in the news a few years back. Blue 44, a family restaurant with what Chris describes as “high end comfort food,” made national headlines when a regular customer left a $2,000 tip after sharing a meal of fried chicken and gumbo with a friend. “We got a lot of calls about our gumbo after that,” Chris says with a laugh. “It used to be just a soup of the day, but it’s on the menu now.” 

The chef at Blue 44 found his home there after stints in kitchens at places like the Ritz Carlton. Chris says they both take great pride in the solid food offerings and the fact that neighbors who are regulars come back night after night. “The best part of my day is interacting with guests and staff,” he says. “It really is like a small family here.”

Owning a business is hard work, says Chris, but the 2002 School of Communication graduate already knew that. As a student at AU, Chris worked at Café Ole on Wisconsin Avenue, where he tackled everything from bartending to management. As a child, he dreamed of being an anchor on ESPN’s SportsCenter, which led him to major in broadcast journalism at AU. And, even though he decided not to pursue journalism, he says he’s fulfilled his dream. “I wanted to open a restaurant…My first job ever was washing dishes so this is what I know,” says Chris. 

Chris, a native of the Pittsburgh area, loves being nearby campus still. And he has at least one recent connection back to AU. Blue 44 catered the Pride Alumni Alliance’s Thanksgiving dinner on campus this year, and Chris personally delivered turkey and all the fixings for a group of more than 60 students on Thanksgiving Day. The meal was a huge hit with the students who were on campus for the holiday – and Chris helped bring some of that community he loves creating through his restaurant right back to AU.