An insider's view of the Connecticut dining scene
Jun 18, 2014
01:33 PMThe Connecticut Table
Joe Bastianich Stars in New Reality Show ‘Restaurant Startup’ on CNBC
If the recipe works correctly, going to a fine restaurant yields what you expect: great food—hopefully with unexpected but appreciated twists to kick-up the experience—in a favored atmosphere, with laser-precision service and a bill that fairly reflects the level on the dining hierarchy that you’ve chosen (or is lower than it might be, delivering luxe life at bargain status).
What you’re not supposed to see is everything behind the equation to deliver delight—the proverbial blood, sweat and tears, and the gritty details of the business model.
The simplified and clichéd way of expressing the same idea is a quote attributed to Otto von Bismarck: “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.” In this case, substitute the term food ventures for the word laws. (Right, linguini with clams at Tarry Lodge Enoteca e Pizzeria in Westport.)
Increasingly, it seems, amid revelatory trends like chef’s table dinners and open kitchens, the counterbalance is restaurants riding their gloss factor for maximum impact.
“All you see in restaurants these days is the glitz and the glam,” restaurateur, TV food personality and Greenwich, Conn., resident Joe Bastianich says by cell phone from Italy on a recent afternoon.
We connected to talk about “Restaurant Startup,” the newest addition to CNBC’s primetime reality lineup, which debuts Tuesday, July 8, at 10 p.m. and features Bastianich vying against chef and restaurateur Tim Love to “invest their own money in food concepts they believe will make them millions.”
Each week, CNBC says, “two teams will make their case to our investors … for a shot at launching a temporary version of their great concept for a restaurant or a specialty food shop. Then we’ll open the doors and test the concept on the public. At the end of the process, our two investors will decide whether or not they will put their own money on the line to make someone’s dreams come true.”
“It’s a smart show,” says Bastianich, who started his career working in his parents’ Italian restaurant in Queens —meaning Felice and Lidia Bastianich, the celebrity chef, TV host, author and restaurateur. From washing dishes, cleaning the sidewalk, and touring the meat markets of the Bronx, Joe Bastianich rose to become one of America’s premier restaurateurs (think of Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca (pasta dish, left) and Del Posto in New York City, B&B Ristorante and Carnevino in Las Vegas, Osteria Mozza in L.A. and closer to home, Tarry Lodge Enoteca e Pizzeria in Westport). He's also an Italian wine expert, an author and a triathlete. (Below, Bastianich attends the Grana Padano Events NYC Marathon Events on October 31, 2013 in New York City; photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Grana Padano.)
The show, Bastianich says, will educate people about what lies behind the glitz of food concepts and restaurants and give them a peek into the “sausage-making” aspect of successful ventures and “why the food culture is such an important part of our lives.”
“It’s real. It’s what I do,” says Bastianich of launching restaurants and of what viewers will see on a debut season that has wrapped production and will now be shown throughout July and August.
“To make a profit, to make it work is a viscious battle," Bastianich says.
Asked about his own most difficult launch, Bastianich says, “All the beginnings are very hard,” and then singles out his first restaurant, Becco, the one “when failure is not an option. … Everyone’s got one of those stories.”
Not everyone has a story like that of Del Posto, the 4-star “ultimate expression of what an Italian restaurant should be” in Manhattan that also represents a $50 million venture.
From its website: Del Posto is the richest and most refined creation of Mario (Batali), Joe, Lidia and partner/Executive Chef Mark Ladner. In October of 2010, Del Posto received a glowing four-star review from The New York Times, the first Italian restaurant to do so in nearly 40 years. At Del Posto, the ambiance of European luxury, palette-enlightening cuisine, polished service, and a world-renowned wine list culminate in an Italian dining experience unlike any other. Del Posto is proud to hold the coveted Relais & Chateux distinction, a 5 Diamond Award from AAA, and the Grand Award from the Wine Spectator.
On “Restaurant Startup” Bastianich and Love listen to dreams being described, put numbers to what they hear and, ultimately, make a judgment on wanting to buy in or not. “This couldn’t be more real. It’s all very powerful, good stuff,” says Bastianich, who opted to invest in a number of the ventures, which involve both restaurants and food concepts. (Right, Tuscan Seafood Stew at Carnevino in Las Vegas.)
Here’s a more detailed explanation of how the aspiring entrepreneurs featured on the show get to the point of scoring an investment:
Each week, one of the two teams featured moves forward. The chosen team is given the keys to a working restaurant on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. They get 36 hours and $7,500 to put their dream to the test and launch a pop-up restaurant; come up with a branding campaign; and write a business plan. Under the watchful eye of Bastianich and Love's culinary consultant, Waylynn Lucas, the aspiring food moguls open their doors, serve their food and test their concept on the public.
Based on the reaction from the diners, the quality of the branding and the viability of the business plan, Bastianich and Love decide whether or not they will put their own money on the line to make someone's dreams come true; and hopefully, make big money for themselves.
Bastianich says he was “mostly inspired” by what he saw and heard on the show, adding, “I always like to see what other people are doing.”
In terms of his own dining preferences, he—not surprisingly—likes “super high-quality food,” mostly Italian, and tends toward grains, pasta with fresh veggies and fish, in a nod to his training regimen as a triathlete.
Italian wines figure prominently in all of that, and if you need indoctrination, Bastianich suggests buying his books, Vino Italiano, its companion buying guide, and Grandi Vini. “Italy has the world beat on great $10 to $20 wines,” he says, adding that the “richness of Italy” in terms of its wines is embodied in the strengths of indigenous grapes, which vary region to region. In terms of pairing Italian wines and food, the easiest rule of thumb, Bastianich says, is “if it grows together, it goes together.” (Also check out the Bastianich wines.)
To see what Bastianich likes in terms of restaurant and food concepts that might arrive on the U.S. landscape, tune into “Restaurant Startup” on CNBC.