In 2012, doctors diagnosed 26-year-old Staten Island mortgage banker Peter Botros with breast cancer. For an unknown reason, the borough has a higher rate per capita of cancer than the rest of the state. When Botros was 14 years old, his mother died from breast cancer. His business partners, Phil Farinacci and Marc Zurlo, also lost their mothers to cancer. Less than 1% of men get breast cancer, and those who do are typically 50 and over. According to the CDC, 1 out of 100 breast cancer diagnoses are found in men.
After having a bilateral mastectomy, Botros decided to quit his job and follow his passion of becoming a chef. Under the Bread and Butter Hospitality imprint, he co-owns several Staten Island restaurants including Violette’s Cellar (named after his mother), Sally’s Southern (named after Farinacci’s mother), Sofia’s Taqueria and The Stone House at Clove Lakes. Botros gets mammograms every six months and (knock on wood) has been cancer-free for a decade. For Voices In Food, Botros talked to Garin Pirnia about overcoming cancer, why he kept his diagnosis from his family and his unrelenting drive for success.
Cancer was never something that occurred to me that I wasn’t going to beat. It wasn’t even a thought. My mindset went to, “OK, if we’re gonna have to have surgery, then we’re gonna have surgery. If we’re gonna have treatment, then we’re gonna have treatment — whatever it takes to get through it, and we’re gonna get through it.”
I didn’t tell my father, and the reason I didn’t tell my father is because that was my mindset. There’s no reason to upset or hurt anyone else in the journey to get to the end. I felt I could do it without bringing that pain or rehashing what he must have felt with my mother. To this day, believe it or not, my grandmother still has no idea (that I had cancer). I’m the type who wants to be the support. I’d rather bear the burden myself. If it means easing the burden on somebody else, or having them not even know that burden, I can handle a lot. So, I was willing to do that. [Note: His father found out because Peter was on his health insurance.]
I learned some things through the diagnosis: Men have milk ducts that are dormant. I learned that because I had a growth in my milk duct. You don’t even know certain parts of your body; most people would never have to know whether or not they have milk ducts.
If you don’t have a mindset that you’re going to overcome or win, that’s the dangerous part. The human body and mind are very, very powerful. I went into treatment with the mindset of, “I’m gonna fight this,” and I think that’s powerful.
The number one thing is, don’t take anything for granted. Don’t ever take any day for granted. Don’t take your relationships with your family or friends for granted. It’s something that you should be conscious of all the time ― that the people in your life are what’s most important, and you should maintain relationships, and not let little things get in the way or bother you. Don’t harp on minutiae and little daily stresses. The other one is to use the power of your mind to help you conquer what you’re going through, whether it’s you who has cancer, or whether you’re going through it kind of side-by-side with a loved one. You still need to use the power of your mind to help you deal with being in that position as well. Hopefully, you can help people have the correct mindset or do what they love in life, and just view it from a different lens.
Ten years is a long time, and I’ve come a long way in those 10 years: changed careers, doing what I love, turning that passion into many different restaurants and employing hundreds of people. I’m doing a ton of charity work, and I’m using the platform of the restaurants and food to benefit local charities and tie the two together.
We host a lot of fundraising-themed events at our restaurants. At Violette’s, we actually made a pledge to the local hospital. They’re building a comprehensive cancer center at Staten Island University Hospital named The Florina Cancer Center. When we opened, which was back in 2017, we made a seven-year pledge to them that we would donate a quarter of a million dollars from the restaurant to help build that cancer center. We’re ahead of our pace. It’s very near to our hearts to be able to help the hospital build that state-of-the-art facility for people of Staten Island.
Staten Island has a very high per capita cancer rate, and many people leave the island for treatment. But soon they won’t have to, because this cancer center will have all the latest and greatest technology and equipment, and that will help draw some of the best doctors in the area to want to work there.
Everybody talks about if you do what you love, you never work a day in your life. It’s true. I don’t take days off. I’m a seven-day-a-week person, but I don’t feel like I’m ever working. Is it stressful? Absolutely. It’s a very stressful business, and COVID was ultra stressful. But that pales in comparison to the joy and satisfaction that I get from doing what I love and helping people.
I’m always racing against the clock. I’m always trying to accomplish as much as I physically can, whether it be in a day writing menus or building toward a future location or whatever it is. Whether or not it’s subconscious, it’s because of Father Time and the fact that there is an end-time for everybody. I don’t know if that’s what drives me or not, but it’s definitely somewhere in there. It’s definitely an underlying emotion and thought that I want to make my mark and to keep putting notches in the belt and keep opening and developing concepts and brands that people love and enjoy.