“I played sports my whole life,” he explains. “I made it a point to keep in shape. Shortly after opening the first restaurant, I had to make it a priority to get back in shape, and I didn’t just want to run. I ran the marathon, and I was in horrible shape when I did that.”
After growing up with the sport — his father boxed recreationally — the restaurateur decided to give it a go. And not long after, he got serious about it, thanks to an opportunity to participate in Haymakers for Hope, an amateur fight event that raises money for cancer research: “Embarrassment isn’t a reason to get in shape, but it’s a good motivation,” he says. “If getting beat up in front of 1,500 people doesn’t motivate me to get in shape, I don’t know what’s going to do it.”
The charity boxing tournament, which is throwing its second annual event in NYC this year (and third annual match-up in Boston), sets the fights and tasks all the boxers with raising money for the cause. “They’re very good about making sure nobody gets mismatched here,” Cardona explains. “They make you spar really briefly so they can make sure it’s a fair fight.” And fighters come mostly from NYC’s professional circles, so, says Cardona, it’s not inconceivable that many of the participants will square off against a friend of a friend.
Cardona insists that he’s “not very good compared to people who box,” but he’s invested a good deal of time into making sure he doesn’t make a fool of himself. “I train at 6 a.m. on the weekdays, he says. “I like to get up very early. And I’m cutting out the drinking. In the restaurant business, when you’re out, you always have a glass of wine or two. I cut that out, so I’m not doing it six nights a week. I’m being more careful.”
The restaurateur also joins a host of industry professionals who have taken an interest in fighting in their free time. Back in May, Dovetail’s John Fraser talked to us about his foray into mixed martial arts, and Cardona says he knows a number of chefs who practice jiujitsu or other types of fighting to stay in shape. The appeal, he says, is that it’s actually a relatively easy way to get fit: “As you get older, you can always throw on a pair of gloves and spar,” he says.
And some backers believe in his ability to stand his ground: Cardona has already raised nearly $25,000, a considerable margin over his original $4,000 goal. The restaurateur says he has an additional interest in raising money for cancer research thanks to his involvement with the Valerie Fund, a New Jersey-based organization that works with kids with cancer and blood disorders.
Haymakers for Hope happens on November 14 at the Hammerstein Ballroom (311 West 34th Street) and runs from 7 until 10 p.m. Tickets range from $100 to $10,000; spring for a VIP ticket ($175), and you’ll be privy to an open bar. Cardona says his restaurants are also catering the event, so you know you’ll eat well.
You can also make a donation in support of Cardona on his personal fundraising page.