Actor, Screenwriter, Producer, and Partner, Chazz Palminteri Ristorante Italiano
As a child, was there someone in your family who spurred your interest in food and cooking?
I’m Italian. I mean, cooking and food was constantly going on in our kitchen. The table, the kitchen, is like a temple. That’s where everybody meets. Everybody talks and you would sit there and watch and learn. I enjoy watching. I especially like to know what I’m eating! And I sometimes cook myself. I do eat to live, but I don’t live to eat.
Since the food is usually so good in an Italian home, how did you not eat everything?
I love food, but I have really good discipline. I try to keep my weight low but, I just love good food. But, if I’m going to eat, I want it to be good food.
What led to your interest in a career as an actor?
My mom would take me to the movies a lot. And I just fell in love with acting. It was just something that I always wanted to do. And I started writing when I was 16, lyrics and poetry. And then I just knew I wanted to act, write and direct. I’ve been very lucky. My life has turned out the way I wanted.
So how did you decide you wanted to go into the restaurant world?
I always wanted to own a restaurant.
What led to your interest in restaurants?
We have a house in Italy, my wife’s family’s house, which is about a hundred miles south of Salerno. Every time we’d go there I’d find these great recipes, and I’d say, wow, I’m going to save that recipe. I always wanted to open my own restaurant because of the friendship I had with Frank Sinatra. He would tell me stories about the Rat Pack and how many of those stories revolved around restaurants. So it dawned on me how great it would be to have your own restaurant where your friends can come. Celebrity friends and regular friends. Great food. Great mixed drinks. I always just thought about it and finally had the opportunity, I met with the gentlemen and we just got together and we said, let’s do it. And it’s taking off. It’s doing amazing. It’s on Second Avenue between 48th and 47th Street. It’s just exploded!
What do you think connected? Do you think it’s your name? Do you think it’s the food?
The first thing is, no matter who you are, if the food is not great, people aren’t coming back. They’re just not, you know? So it had to be the food first. And I told them, you have to go through the recipes and go through what we’re going to serve because I’m putting my name on this. I mean, I can get the people in there. They’ll come one time to see what it’s like. But if the food isn’t great, they’re not coming back. And the food is spectacular. And of course, I, have my name on it. People know my movies. They want to come and check it out. It’s a place where my celebrity friends pop in, now and then. So, it’s always exciting for people to see that. There are so many great restaurants in Manhattan. What makes you want to go to this restaurant? It has to be the experience.
What do you think people feel about the experience in your restaurant?
From the moment you walk in, we have a young, beautiful hostess who brings you in with a great smile. Then our waiters are really personable, and finally, the great food. It’s all the best stuff. We have a tremendous wine list. So it makes you feel comfortable, it makes you feel good.
As a director, when you do a movie, you have to pick the actors. Were you involved in picking the chef?
I had tasted all his dishes and looked at his resume. And he was really just great.
Would you recommend that other stars open their own restaurant?
A restaurant is not something you jump into. You’re destined to fail if you try something like that. So I knew I had to get with the best people and that’s what I did and it worked out really well.
Are there restaurants in New York through the years that you’ve admired that you keep going back to?
I don’t eat steak often but when I do, I like a really good steak and I go to the Empire Steakhouse. But there’s a lot of wonderful restaurants in New York. So you have to stick out and you have to have some sort of a hook.
What went into creating the right menu for this? Were you able to use some of your recipes?
Oh, absolutely. We put a bunch of those recipes on the menu and others that the chef had invented. It was really a combination of both. At a lot of places, the restaurants are so limited. You have to make sure that when somebody comes in, they can get what they want.
“Bullets over Broadway,” “A Bronx Tale.” They’re all signature New York City movies. Does the restaurant venture reflect that Chazz New York brand, if you will?
Absolutely. The restaurant has this old world, kind of Rat-Pack feel to it. The waiters have bow ties. The maitre d’s, their tuxes. It’s really done right. It’s a place you want to impress your girlfriend with, your wife. It’s romantic, without being stuffy. My restaurant is classy but people have fun there.
Are there similarities between creating a team for a movie and a restaurant?
No question, no question. You’re absolutely right. As a director, you get the best cinematographer, you get the best editor, and it’s the same thing with a restaurant. You get the best chef, you get the best waiters, you get the best hostess. The real key in great restaurants is consistency. I hate restaurants that I go to once and I loved the meal and then I go back and it’s a different chef. I know I’m going to go there and get a great meal. A lot of restaurants can’t do it, they just can’t do it. In my restaurant, there can be no foul-ups. I’m not one of these “I put my name on” and never go. When I’m in town I could be there three times a week, stop by for lunch and dinner, just pop in. So it’s important for me to always be there when I can. It has to be right, you know? It has to be.
We have some interesting issues these days, the minimum wage. No tipping. Tell me a little bit about where we are with that.
In a way, it’ll help some people. But I always believe, when people make more money, they spend more money. So when you put restrictions on certain people, what happens is then you have to let go of a couple of waiters. So you might be helping a couple, but you’re letting go a couple. And, the whole tipping thing. I don’t know about that. I like tipping. That’s what America is about. We tip. In Europe they don’t tip. I don’t know if the service would be as good. I mean, when you go in and people know that you’re a great tipper, you get that extra service.
Would you like the New York City restaurant to be part of a group. Do you see Atlantic City, Mohegan Sun? You’re a man of vision.
Absolutely. Right now we’re looking at Las Vegas. We’ll see if the deal is right.