For restaurants, 2021 has brought a measure of hope. As workers – and guests – are vaccinated, the dining rooms of the restaurant are increasingly resembling the pre-pandemic scenes. However, the cost for 2020 remains. Many restaurants have problems recruiting staff. Months worth of rental payments now due could result in more being permanently closed. Dozens of restaurants already have it. And then there is the Major Food Group, the powerhouse restaurant group that is expanding.
While restaurants across the country have been slowly trying to regain a foothold over the past four months, MFG has opened four restaurants and announced plans for several more. The New York City-based group, founded by Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi and Jeff Zalaznick, kicked off the year with the opening of a new location for Carbone, its Italian-American celebrity magnet, in Miami’s South Beach in late January. Just a few months later, in April, ZZ’s Sushi Bar opened, a mix of ZZ’s Clam Bar in New York and a member-only sushi club in the Miami Design District. That same month, the group debuted at Woodbury Commons, an outlet mall in New York’s Central Valley, with an outpost of their casual Italian-American restaurant, Parm. And in March, Sadelle’s opened in Kith’s new Parisian store.
At the beginning of the basketball season this fall, MFG will open a 7,700 square foot lounge in the Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn. Also this fall, a new version of Torrisi Italian Specialties will open one block from the original Italian restaurant and deli that brought Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone into the restaurant spotlight in 2009. Later in 2021, Carbone and Sadelle’s in Dallas will open in mid-June, Contessa, an all-day dining restaurant in Boston’s new Newbury Hotel.
Miami’s role as MFG’s home away from home will be secured with even more restaurants later this year: an Italian trattoria in the city’s Art’s District and an American steakhouse in the Brickell district are planned. MFG has also just established locations for two Sadelle restaurants, one in Miami’s Coconut Grove and the other in Miami Beach. The Coconut Grove location will open this year while the other, a larger expansion that includes a market, will take longer. Finally, MFG is also (for the time being) working on an “Israeli concept”, most likely for the South of Fifth neighborhood later this year.
“We’re quick on our feet. We spin fast. We know when we want something and we go after it. We felt that way very quickly when it came to Miami, ”says Zalaznick of the rapid expansion. “I was lucky to be here [in Miami] right at the beginning of the pandemic. When I got here I saw the potential and we started moving. “(Zalaznick himself also moved to Miami.)
The restaurant industry in South Florida is booming. Olee Fowler, editor of Eater Miami, says Miami’s lower rents and the state’s looser COVID-19 restrictions (Florida restaurants can be 100 percent open for indoor dining since September) have been a win for New York restaurateurs. “There has always been an overlap between New York and Miami. We jokingly call Miami the sixth district, ”says Fowler. “Florida has been open to business operations since the end of September. Florida has a lovely winter time everyone can hang out, and [New York restaurateurs] saw it as an opportunity. “
The migration from New York to Miami is a phenomenon that is triggered by a “one-percenter exodus” from NYC. Curbed notes that this doesn’t just apply to restaurants: New York art galleries have opened branches in Miami after wealthy financial institutions and individual wealthy collectors. And last year in the Miami Design District, which is home to ZZ’s Sushi Bar and the upcoming trattoria, profits have grown surprisingly fast in recent months despite the poor state of retail in other countries. Revenue in the Design District companies increased year-over-year. “Since July, sales have increased by 20 to 30 percent. [They were] up 40 percent in January and February. We were up 93 percent in March, ”said Craig Robins, CEO and President of DACRA, the real estate development company behind Miami Design District. “I don’t know if there is another retail destination in the country that has grown as fast as we have.”
According to Robins, the new MFG restaurants are a “perfect addition” to the neighborhood. “The restaurants in the Design District are fun and casual. You still feel like you can wear jeans and a t-shirt even when the food is of the highest quality, ”he says. MFG’s restaurants work on this higher end of the spectrum, with dining rooms that are festive without feeling stuffy. “Everyone knows there is so much demand,” says Robins. “You feel privileged and recognized just to sit at one table, and then the level of service and the quality of the food are excellent.”
According to Fowler, when Carbone Miami opened, it started immediately. “Miami is all about a scene and being the hot, cool place,” she says. “Carbone did this exceptionally well.” In view of the exchange between New York and Miami, the brand’s fame helped, as did Carbone’s menu with undisputed Italian-American classics. The difficulty of getting a caveat only added to Carbone’s appeal. “Miami loves that kind of thing. It’s all about the VIP scene, ”says Fowler. “That’s how we are, for better or for worse.”
Inside Carbone Miami Giovanny Gutierrez / Chat Chow TV
Even in New York, the U.S. city hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic in its first few months, there was demand for MFG restaurants, even though the group was temporarily unable to meet the ambience. When Carbone did not reopen for takeout until March 2020 after a brief shutdown, the demand for spicy rigatoni worth $ 32 and veal parmesan worth $ 69 drew so many people that police were urged to disband them.
MFG, with its newest restaurants, seems to lean into the air of exclusivity that has long been maintained with a system that makes reservations scarce. At many locations, reservations can only be requested for exactly one month per day and only for one day. Now the portfolio is being expanded to include real private clubs. According to the New York Times, MFG’s Crown Club Barclays Center Lounge, which serves popular dishes from existing MFG restaurants as well as chefs from other NYC restaurants, is only open to those with Brooklyn Nets tickets in the yard, which means the The number of 250 seats is limited to those who have already paid at least US $ 475 to access the court.
According to Zalaznick, rapid expansion is nothing new to the group, which opened seven New York restaurants in a single year. The latest additions are part of an already robust portfolio that includes 10 restaurant concepts in New York City (excluding multiple Parm locations, a casual ode to Italian-American home cooking), two in Las Vegas, two in Tel Aviv, and one in Hong Kong. All of them are expected to reopen. “We were very smart about how we did our closings and deliveries, and when we opened and how we opened,” says Zalaznick of how the group avoided pandemic-induced slowdowns. “So far we’ve made a lot of big changes and big steps, and they have worked.”
These steps include MFG entering new types of venues. Simon Property Group, the real estate investment trust probably best known for its malls, is a minority stake in MFG and the driving force behind the fast-paced parm that shows up alongside Aunt Anne’s and Chipotle at Woodbury Commons. in the Burlington Mall in Burlington, Massachusetts. In terms of outlet malls, Woodbury Commons sits at the highest end and is home to outlets for brands like Dior, Prada, and Givenchy. If the Major Food Group opened in an outlet center, it would be this one. At the beginning of the year, the group made another brand-appropriate expansion and opened a Sadelle’s, the MFG contribution to all-day dining, in the Kith in Paris, the 16,000 square meter European flagship of the streetwear shop. This is where Parisians looking for the latest sneaker drop or the latest designer collaboration can take a break for a bagel and caviar.
If the group’s continued global expansion doesn’t seem to be keeping pace with the general state of the restaurant industry, it is not necessarily incompatible with the state of the world at this point in the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who bore the economic costs of the pandemic disproportionately were those who initially had less. The rich of the world, who have been able to await the worst of the pandemics in their vacation homes, have neither lost the means nor the desire to expand their car collections, bid on diamonds, or buy charter jets. And it is this clientele that MFG seems to be relying on as it opens restaurants that many of those clients meet right where they are, be it Miami’s unconstrained playground, a private sports lounge, or the newest shopping destination in Paris, in selling $ 75 worth of t-shirts.
From an operational perspective, Zalaznick said, the pandemic may actually have benefited the group. “It has made us smarter and better, and given us the opportunity to think about our business and how we can get better and more efficient as a company,” he says. “We try to turn every negative into a positive, and this is the ultimate example of that.”