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Mario Batali brings business to the table

Newsletter | Mar 31, 2017 |

Emmy Award-winning chef Mario Batali’s recipe for creating successful restaurants starts with a basic idea: Describe it in just three sentences.

“As Joe [Bastianich, business partner] and I always say, if you can’t write what a restaurant should be in three sentences, you need to rethink your restaurant,” he said. “Because it can’t be everything.”

This was one of the business insights that Batali shared at a mid-February event at the Lincoln Center campus. He and Bastianich recently opened La Sirena Ristorante in Chelsea, their first standalone restaurant in New York in nearly a decade.

Sporting a ponytail, pink shorts, a black vest, striped socks, and his signature orange Crocs, Batali spoke candidly about his humble beginnings in the food industry and his family tradition of cooking, hunting, fishing, pickling, and making more pies and sausages than they could eat in one sitting.

At a time when America was embracing fast food and the easier life, we were still doing it the old-fashioned way,” he said, recounting his surprise the first time he went to a friend’s house and saw processed sausage that was packaged in plastic.

“Trying to create the next Chipotle is one thing. Trying to make delicious food for a smaller group of people is another, and there are a thousand jobs in between those two bookends.”

Staying true to this culinary upbringing has paid off in more ways than one for the Italian-American chef. In addition to starring in numerous television food shows and authoring 11 cookbooks, Batali oversees an ever-expanding food empire that spans 26 restaurants and five marketplaces, among them New York’s Babbo, Del Posto, and the sprawling Italian food emporium Eataly.

As the New York restaurant scene continues to expand, Batali said that today’s restaurateurs are not only competing for customers—they are in a contest to recruit and retain the most talented chefs, managers, and support staff. This realization was one of the reasons he built his next generation of restaurants “defensively,” and he said he works to help his employees reach a new level of success in their careers.

So—let’s say you’ve followed Batali’s advice and can now encapsulate your very own restaurant idea in just three sentences. How do you know if it’s any good?

“You have to start at the very fundamental beginning and identify a way to make something that is so preposterously delicious that no one will be able to resist it,” he said. “That’s when you have a restaurant concept.”

Story by Tanisia Morris, photo by Bruce Gilbert. This story was originally published in Fordham Business magazine and was re-published here on GabelliConnect.

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