If you haven’t heard of the Major Food Group, you will soon. Founded by Rich Torrisi, Mario Carbone, and Jeff Zalaznick, the operation began in 2010 with the opening of Torrisi Italian Specialties, an artisan deli in Lower Manhattan. Since then their hits have included ZZ’s Clam Bar, a chic and uber-expensive seafood joint; Carbone, described as “homage to the Italian-American restaurants of the mid-20th century in New York,” and Parm, a string of casual Italian eateries. The smart money believes that Parm will become the red-sauce equivalent of Shake Shack.
At the other end of the culinary universe, The Four Seasons in Manhattan has been one of the world’s iconic restaurants since opening in 1959. Occupying the first three floors of the Seagram Building, the stunning interior—designed by Mies van der Rohe— features artwork by Picasso, Miro, Pollock and Rosenquist. It was the first U.S. restaurant to feature a seasonally changing menu, and gave birth to many of the culinary trends we worship today.
As most food lovers know, The Four Seasons is being kicked out of the Seagram Building when its lease expires next year. The landlord wanted to triple their rent to $3 million and demanded a cut of the profits, to which the restaurant refused to agree. For the past six months, there has been intense speculation about who would take over the space. If you haven’t figured it out by now, it’s the Major Food Group: three guys in their thirties who started with a sandwich shop five years ago. They’ll be joined in the deal by Vito Schnabel, son of painter and filmmaker Julian Schnabel.
The way forward for the Major Food Group in their new venture will be a minefield, at best. Most of the CEOs of New York’s biggest corporations have lunch daily in the Grill Room, and the trio will have to accommodate that clientele. At the same time, they’ll have to cater to the birthday/anniversary/special occasion customers who currently comprise a large chunk of the population of the Pool Room. They’ll have to be innovative and traditional at the same time. And if The Four Seasons couldn’t pay the $3 million rent while charging $28-36 for an appetizer and $48-72 for a main course, how are the new owners supposed to do so?
The Young Turks have stormed the castle, and folks in the countryside are anxiously awaiting the new regime. It will be a fascinating transition to watch.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is forthcoming from Black Opal Books next spring. For more information, go to amazon.com