While it’s typically a faux pas to employ a cliché in writing, the revival and adaptation of Midtown Manhattan restaurant Fresco by Scotto reveals a bona fide ‘when life gives you lemons’ moment— literally.
Serving the bustling business scene in Midtown since 1993, the family-owned and operated eatery suddenly faced mounting bills and permanent closure amidst the pandemic. With a business hovering on the brink of bankruptcy, sisters and co-owners Elaina and Rosanna Scotto launched a major reimagine. Inspired by the Italian island of Capri known for its enticing cuisine, awe-inspiring coastline and electric blue waters, the Scotto sisters have turned Fresco by Scotto into a culinary escape in the heart of the city, complete with lemon trees.
“When COVID hit we were in a very desperate situation,” Elaina said. When we did reopen, we were almost completely empty. There were nights when we had five customers in the restaurant. Now people are lining up at six o’clock to get into the restaurant,” Rosanna said. They love the music. They love the vibe. They feel like they’re on vacation.”
The vibe—another city within the city— is thanks to world famous party planner Larry Scott whose talent for ambiance turned Fresco’s everyday sidewalk seating into a destination. Happen upon Fresco by Scotto on East 52nd Street and the scene could easily pass as a postcard from Italy, featuring lush lemon trees, verdant plant life and suspended twinkling lights.
“People are so happy to be out,” Rosanna said. “There are nights where impromptu dancing on the street happens and the vibe is just there. People want to escape, and they can come to our restaurant to do it”
Another stellar addition has been Chef Ben Kacmarcik, previously of Pastis, who the Scotto sisters heard about through a former chef. Pitched as a young, energetic, and creative talent who can put out hundreds of covers, Elaina and Rosanna took a chance and hired him without having him cook a single dish for them first. “When someone gives you a menu, you can tell just by the ingredients, and whatever they’re putting on it whether they’re the right fit or not,” Elaina said.
The Scotto sisters describe their menu as healthier than it’s ever been with several dishes featuring a healthy grain or a salad like the branzino with quinoa and arugula. The menu provides prix fixe lunch ($39) or dinner ($84) options alongside a la carte additions and is diverse with both lighter fare and items for those who wish to indulge including the Rigatoni Bolognese and a Prime New York strip steak. The reimagined menu and atmosphere has Fresco by Scotto doing better than the sisters expected, with celebrities such as Kelly Ripa, President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton and Wendy Williams frequently dining in. Despite soaring volume, the Scotto sisters are remaining realistic about the future months as the pandemic begins to ramp back up.
“We can’t afford another shutdown,” Elaina said. While the restaurant can’t afford another shutdown, the owners are keen to pivoting. During lock down in New York City, the Scotto Sister’s began sharing recipes and kitchen tricks on Instagram Live starting with just one viewer, their mother Marion who too works and co-owns Fresco by Scotto. Now with thousands of viewers, the sisters share stories, recipes and laughs weekly on Instagram, starting at 4:30pm EST on weekdays.
“Whatever happens, we will adapt,” Rosanna said.
Judging by their most recent success, it’s clear the Scotto sisters know how to stay positive and optimistic in the face of a crisis. They were even able to hire back 80 percent of their former staff. As the winter months approach, the sisters plan to work with Urban Umbrella to help enclose their outdoor patio and bring in heaters to continue offering New Yorkers an outdoor culinary escape even throughout the colder months. Best part, no passport required.