Mario Carbone On Major Food Group’s Culinary Empire Expansion, Industry Tips, Off-Menu Dishes And More

Mario Carbone
Mario Carbone

Photo Credit: Major Food Group

New York born-and-bred Mario Carbone has built his culinary empire, Major Food Group, from the ground up, stemming from his deep-rooted passion for food and the hospitality industry, which he learned at one-year-old through his Italian grandparents. Most commonly known for his namesake restaurant, Carbone, he’s expanded his reach throughout the globe with eateries in New York, Las Vegas and Hong Kong. Currently, he owns concepts with partners Rich Torrisi and Jeff Zalaznick: Carbone, The Pool, Santina, The Lobster Club, Dirty French, The Grill, Sadelle’s, ZZ’s Clam Bar, Parm and The Polynesian.

Haute Living previously chatted with the famed chef to learn more about how he started his culinary empire and what some of the challenges were when building something from scratch.

“Anytime anybody asks me if they should do this, I always tell them ‘no,’ because if you’re asking me that question, you shouldn’t do it. It’s a very difficult thing and you have to be obsessed with it to the point in your mind where there’s no doubt you’re going to do it. And at that point, you’re not asking anybody’s opinion,” he candidly shared.

After studying and graduating from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), where he first met partner Rich Torrisi, Carbone moved on to work with Batali & Bastianich, where he joined the opening team at Lupa Osteria Romana, followed by a brief career at La Dogana in Tuscany, Italy. He then worked under the world-renowned chef Daniel Boulud, where he was reunited with Torrisi. After 10 years, the pair ventured out on their own, where they began making sandwiches at Torrisi Italian Specialties, followed by Parm and eventually earned enough praise to continue expanding the empire to Carbone. Ever since, it’s been a successful and carefully-executed expansion to create the powerhouse brand that Major Food Group is today.

Here, Haute Living chats again with Carbone to discuss Major Food Group’s expansion and keys to success, where he’d like to open next, tips of the industry and his favorite dishes at each of his beloved eateries.

HL: Your DNA is in New York but you’ve been expanding elsewhere in key markets like Hong Kong and Las Vegas. How do you successfully expand, while maintaining that core New York identity in your brand?

MC: I think just because our brands are often born in NY doesn’t mean they’ll feel the same outside of NY. There’s nothing interesting about exact copies. We want the brands to be at home wherever they are and we work very hard to ensure they’re representative of that environment through the design, food and general vibe.

What has been one of the greatest challenges of expanding?

I think it’s the same for just about everyone within the industry—finding talent.

How has the hospitality industry changed most since you’ve started out? How have you managed to adapt to this changing climate while still evoking the feeling of old-school New York charm in your restaurants?

The industry seems to have less and less attention span and patience for new product more than ever. Your window to be successful and the hurdles surrounding the economics of the business have also never been more difficult. 

Is there any cuisine that you haven’t tapped into at any of your concepts yet that you wish to?

Pizza—I’m dying to make pizza!

Mario CarbonePhoto Credit: Major Food Group

Favorite aspect of New York?

If you can make it here…

Aside from New York and the other cities you have a presence in—where do you see MFG expanding next? What do you look for most when choosing your next destination?

There are lots of cities on our big board that are really exciting. I’d say at the top are Los Angeles, Dallas and London, as well as continued growth in Las Vegas.

What’s been your greatest key to success when introducing a new concept to your audience?

Never treat it like a concept. Every single thing we do needs to be a complete story. A love letter to the audience of that location or fan of that cuisine. Never deviate from the process that got us here.

What’s your favorite dish at each of your restaurants?

Carbone: Veal Milanese (off-menu—need to ask for it)

Sadelle’s: Whitefish salad

Santina: Fritto Misto

Dirty French: Lamb Carpaccio

Parm: Eggplant Parm

ZZ’s Clambar: Trout Roe Toast

The Grill: Squab

The Pool: Turbot 

The Polynesian: Sliders

The Lobster Club: Wok-fried lobster