Upon walking through the doors of Babbo, I knew I had found a welcome home. What began was a four year stint working with two men, who like me, were born into the restaurant industry.
Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich would help define my New York food career working first in their flagship, Babbo and later opening their fourth restaurant, OTTO and then opening The Spotted Pig which they co-owned with April Bloomfield.
Though seemingly small in scope, this project earns merit through one simple addition: content.
While I was Hospitality Manager at Babbo, I launched their first restaurant website: babbonyc.com.
Alongside Razorfish Founder Craig Kanarick, who had left the company and was staging in our kitchen, I helped develop and manage the site.
While learning HTML chops “on the fly” with Craig’s help, I added the selling of gift cards, Mario’s cookbooks and one of the first content driven sites.
I added content about Ingredients & Italian wine as David Lynch was writing Vino Italiano at the time and I had a well of information to draw from.
Next, a travel ‘blog’ of sorts. It came to me when I was sending requests to Mario’s friends or patrons about where to stay, dine and shop in Italy. I added the travel bits to the site each month highlighting a region and making it a permanent addition to the site.
Lastly, I added Staff Picks highlighting neighborhood spots that the staff loved where patrons could explore when visiting Babbo.
Today, the travel feature remains a prominent part of the Babbo site. I saw the value early on that content could create.
OTTO enoteca pizzeria is the fourth restaurant from the B&B Hospitality group. After Babbo, Lupa and Esca, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich opened a pizzeria in the heart to Greenwich Village. After a year working at their flagship Babbo, I was promoted to open OTTO from the ground up at the corner of One Fifth Avenue and 8th Street in the iconic Ghostbusters Building.
OTTO, which means eight in Italian (clever, it’s situated on 8th Street) marked Mario & Joe’s most involved design project to date, blending together a salumeria, sophisticated wine bar (enoteca) and a pizzeria worthy of the The Godfather himself.
The concept would serve breakfast lunch and dinner and while a salumeria was always in mind for the space highlighting Mario’s father’s legacy as a master salumist, we weren’t sure if we should put tables in all three dining areas.
We settled on creating bar-tops that were different than the typical smalls squares or rounds you find in most event spaces and restaurants.
Joe and I designed the tall marble-topped enoteca tables reminiscent of bars in Italy where wine and coffee are often enjoyed throughout the day.
Always feeling like there’s never room for your napkin or phone, let alone evening bag, we added shelving under the counter for people to store them. The tables were designed with focus on size for plates, glassware and number of guests who could fit around the table (8, of course).
In the bar we considered what decor to add. The brilliant idea came while thinking of an Italian past time of sipping espresso or wine while waiting for the train to work.
After I did some research, to our surprise and good fortune, I found that train signs being used in busy stations like Penn Station & Grand Central in New York and, in fact, all over Europe were all manufactured in Italy.
I worked with the team in Italy to create a custom-sized sign and program for our sign to exhibit number in party, incremental seating times and Italian cities that matched cards handed to those who were waiting for their meal.
A fun experience that adds a unique charm when dining at OTTO.
In addition, I created the menu design that is still in use today at both locations made to be printed in-house with daily updates as well as the iconic metal bar trays reminiscent of European beer trays (often served at pizzerias in Italy) printed with the logo.
What’s more I oversaw the development of the website and the content for the site.
A fun unexpected challenge on this project was when we fired our General Contractor early in the development phase of construction.
I took the reigns learning to read architectural blueprints and directing electricians, carpenters, plumbers and more.
I oversaw the installation of the POS system and phone systems and hired the staff and managed a team of 8 managers and a staff of 100 upon opening.
I ordered the glassware and silverware from Italy and worked with a team to create the kitchen, salmueria and gelateria that once supplied all the gelato for the the B&B restaurants and where the famed olive oil gelato was created.
The same space that once housed another popular restaurant in the 70’s where reportedly every Saturday Night Live episode “ended” was now transformed into a sophisticated Italian eatery that remains popular today.
THE SPOTTED PIG
I stepped into The Spotted Pig on it’s first Friday open with a stream of people out the door, half of whom were celebrities. We had no phone, no ordering system and the hand-pulled beer tap in the basement from Brooklyn Brewery needed constant attention.
While spending all but a few hours a night at The Spotted Pig, I began implementing systems (computer, phone, POS) and managing both the personalities in the restaurant and at the door. It was an amazing experience, each night full of surprises you can only imagine. The magic to it was palpable and everyone knew it. With co-owners like Jay-Z and Bono, the party was always about to happen.
My job was to keep up and keep it keeping up so we could make the happening spot hold it’s place in the all too fickle NYC dining scene. I ran the operations all day and the door at night as the gatekeeper to the hottest seats in town. I launched lunch a few months in and hired more team members and settled into somewhat of a routine whilst managing the ever intense need for celebrity and food fawning. If something happened in NYC, the afterparty was at The Pig, to be sure.
While it was exhilarating to be around so much success and delight in April’s amazing food, I was overcome with the desire to take all I had learned and try it myself in a new town with my own business. The stories, however, will always be told.