This article is published in number 49 of Vanity Fair on newsstands until December 6, 2022
To tell the rise of Mario Carbone, we need to take a step back. Exactly last May, during the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Miami. For the occasion, the owners of Carbone, the ten-year temple of Italian American cuisine in New York’s Greenwich Village, had opened a pop-up under a giant tent on the beach. The price of one meal was three thousand dollars per person. However, in the days leading up to the races, Jeff Zalaznick, cofounder of Major Food Group, the umbrella company that owns Carbone, was decidedly optimistic. «We have never registered such a high number of requests», he commented at the time. “It will be a very hedonistic experience.”
Zalaznick knew his market. During the four days of Coal Beachthe client list was a perfect cross-section of wealth and celebrity: from oil and real estate billionaires to Gen Z Marvel heroine Hailee Steinfeldthe directors Michael Bay And Spike Lee, Derek Jeter, Venus And Serena Williams and still others, such as LeBron James which he had stopped at Coal Beach for four consecutive nights. There were also the dispossessed princelings Ivanka Trump And Jared Kushner to enjoy a rare evening away from the usual dismissive progressives who can’t afford to shell out all those dollars for a dinner. In just four nights, Carbone Beach had made over two million dollars.
How to explain the phenomenon? At the heart of it all is Mario Carbone, an eternal boy from Queens, New York State, who, after working in neighborhood restaurants, in 2013, at the age of 33, opened his eponymous restaurant. Up and down Miami every weekend, where he moved in with his girlfriend, the influential tiktoker Cait BaileyDuring the pandemic, he personally plated rigatoni and threw steaks on the grills while playing politician, receiving VIPs and showcasing his talent.
For months I have been talking to Carbone to try understand how his name has become synonymous with a very specific type of luxury dininghow he and his associates have built and expanded a club capable of attracting in a short time not only the likes of LeBron And Jeter, Spikes And Drake, Jared And Ivankabut tycoons, trendsetters, creatives and influencers of all kinds.
During one of our meetings, I asked him if he and co-founder Rich Torrisi had ever imagined such a success when they decided to open their first Italian restaurant 13 years ago. “We had no idea how it was going to happen,” replies Carbone, “but both Rich and I were willing to bet that we’d make it big before we turned thirty.”
Since restaurants gradually began reopening in the fall of 2020, there hasn’t been a more celebrity-filled place on Earth than Carbone. It’s as if the rich and powerful know no other place to dine.
In the years Carbone has become, if not the only one, one of the few places Leonardo DiCaprio can enter and, perhaps, not be the most famous of those present. He played an important role in fueling the myth of Carbone in the era of the pandemic @deuxmoithe Instagram account that churns out gossip and reveals secrets and behind-the-scenes celebrities.
In the universe of @deuxmoiCoal has become the Deux Magots (legendary Parisian brasserie) of our century, with Kim Kardashian And Pete Davidson sitting at the table instead of Simone de Beauvoir And Jean Paul Sartre.
«I name many different restaurants but, for one reason or another, users think I always refer to Carbone, which is now a synonym for the account», jokes one of the founders of @deuxmoi in a phone call. ‘But aren’t there other places to eat? When someone sends me a photo of their burger or other typically American dish, I get emotional: sometimes it seems to me that I am only publishing posts on Carbone».
There Hollywood version of Carbone’s linguine (with clams). was born just as Instagram was starting to take off. Three months after the restaurant opened, in March 2013, the social platform allowed users to add videos to feeds for the first time.
«Carbone is a sort of film set, where every waiter is like an actor», he says Daniel Bouludwho once hired Carbone and Torrisi in his Café Boulud, renowned French restaurant on Fifth and Madison Avenues. “Mario and Rich are New Yorkers, they miss the joie de vivre of Manhattan.”
When talking about the restaurant, Carbone and Torrisi often come up with a concept they have dubbed «The Move“, the motion. The “moves” are small, almost imperceptible, alluring performances offered by the waiters, which intertwine in a series of deliberately excessive attentions aimed at seducing and bewitching the guests who, invariably, remain captive to the spell of the dish served.
«These are the details of a service with a unique style. It can be our redundant verbiage, how the head waiter guides you through the dishes, the way we present special creations,” says Torrisi. “People probably don’t even notice The Move. That’s exactly the point: you don’t mind because we have captured your imagination. We pour your wine quickly, we serve you a cocktail, you enjoy yourself, and then you’ll be back. This is The Move».