In March 2022, Carbone, Vino, and Sadelle’s landed in Dallas. All three are the work of Major Food Group, chef Mario Carbone’s hospitality empire with Rich Torrisi and Jeff Zalaznick. Its reach stretches from New York City to Miami, Boston, Las Vegas, Hong Kong, Paris… the list goes on.
When Carbone opened, it was nearly impossible to get a reservation. The place stayed booked out solidly for the first six months. Now, a Friday or Saturday reservation still requires some advance planning, but it’s not tough to get an ideal slot between 6 and 8 p.m. for tables of two and four. Sadelle’s was so crowded on a Monday morning in November that there was a 30-minute wait. But when Eater Dallas met up with Mario Carbone for this interview on a Wednesday morning in September, it was nearly empty.
Carbone was in town to host an aperitivo hour at Vino, check in with his chefs, and generally promote the restaurants. He sat down with Eater Dallas to chat about how it’s going now that his restaurants aren’t the newest thing in the market, where he wants to go from here, and what he thinks it means that so many hospitality groups from all over the world want to open here.
Carbone and Vino were the biggest openings of the year in Dallas in 2022. How are things going there, and at Sadelle’s?
Carbone has been gangbusters. Right now we’re finishing enclosing the courtyard, basically making a dome out of it that will be temperature-controlled all year. What I wasn’t told when I came to Dallas was how extreme the weather is here. Sometimes you have all four seasons in one day — the weather has been crazy. We decided to take the huge courtyard and make an atrium out of it so you can enjoy it all year while still feeling like you’re outside.
There was a Vanity Fair article when you opened in Dallas that hinted at expansions in the Design District, including a possible Carbone hotel. What’s going on there, are you still thinking about it?
Definitely. I don’t have to tell you this is one of the biggest booming cities in America. Someone told me that by 2050 it will be the biggest, most populous state in America. Bigger than California and New York. Now that we have a team on the ground, we’re very open to further expansion. I’d love to be in the hotel business here. There are no set-in-stone further plans now, but I’d love to see it happen.
More concretely, what does becoming more embedded in the community look like for Major Food Group?
I think it’s just time, right? And repetition. The customer getting to know the name of the person who makes their coffee, which forms a real bond between the customer and that establishment. You go from being the new thing to just the thing. There’s always this moment when you open and are the new, shiny thing everyone wants to go to. But there’s the need for staying power, and that’s where the real groundwork is. That’s where making sure you have a great staff who stay and get to know people [comes in], all the little things beyond being the shiny new toy that keep you here for a long time. With places that have been here for 10-plus years, they’re not going anywhere. There’s no greater goal than to be part of the community.
How do you do that with Carbone? It’s in a still up-and-coming neighborhood that isn’t residential. And we do love to get dressed up and go to dinner here, but how do you message people that it’s somewhere they can just go on a Wednesday night as a regular?
Carbone is certainly a luxury product, right? We’re well aware of that and we try to over-deliver on your night out so that you feel like, I really enjoyed myself and yes it costs XYZ but I enjoyed myself and they over-delivered. Particularly with the Vino product, I feel that goes a long way into just being like, I’m going to go to the property and maybe just have a glass of wine and a cheese board tonight and that’s how I went to Carbone. I still had the great service, the burgundy tuxedo guy waiting on me, heard the same playlist, and I had all the same optionality [on the menu]. Creating that here and giving it to that complex, for the same reasons you’re saying — it’s an up-and-coming neighborhood, a booming neighborhood and I’m glad we’re on the right side of the curve there. I think the Vino part of it gives the Dallas local that great option.
What about Sadelle’s, which has a built-in neighborhood audience? It feels like more of a destination as well. What’s in the cards?
Hopefully another year like the one we just had. It’s been booming. There are going to be less coffee options in the neighborhood, I think Starbucks [in Highland Park Village] is closing. That’s why we started working on new coffee drinks, pastry items, and breakfast sandwiches — to make sure we are your option if you live and work in this neighborhood to pick something up quickly.
Brunch is a serious meal in Dallas. What insights have you gleaned from Dallas diners?
The very first thing that we learned when we got to town was the seriousness of the breakfast taco. We got here and were like, “It’s Sadelle’s. We do bagels and salmon.” And the customer was like, “Cool — what kind of breakfast tacos?” It’s a prerequisite, not an option. This is the only Sadelle’s that serves those. And it was clear that if you want to be serious about breakfast in this town, you have to be serious about that.
The New York Times ran an article earlier this year about expensive, splashy out-of-town restaurateurs in Dallas and the city losing its identity. What did you think about it?
I would say a couple of things about it. When you’re entering a market, the last thing that [the] populous of that market wants is for you to change towards the market. What they want is the purest form of it — if you’re bringing Carbone, they want the real deal. They want Carbone, that’s why they went to New York for it and why they’re excited it’s here.
As far as the influx of non-Dallas [restaurants] or whatever to the city, I think that’s what makes a dynamic dining city. If you look at New York, Paris, or Tokyo, they are dynamic cities because they have homegrown talent and the best-in-class operators and brands in the world to choose from. Invariably, the high tide lifts all ships. When new things come online, they’re going to be better than they’ve ever been because they have to be in order to compete with what there is in the market. Ultimately, it makes it a great dining city and it’s great for the customer.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.