Del Posto, Eataly and the Fate of Mario Batali’s Former Italian Empire

For 16 years, 85 Tenth Ave. all about glamour. There were bag stools ready to hold up designer handbags, a gleaming Steinway piano, and servers in immaculate suits serving up expensive tasting menus to celebrity guests like Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Now there’s pizza being cooked in a giant oven that resembles a disco ball, and a bartender with a man bun shaking up espresso martinis.

Once the crown jewel of Mario Batali’s empire, Del Posto closed for good a year ago. Melissa Rodriguez, the former chef and partner at the upscale restaurant, has completely revamped the space with a trio of new casual restaurants, including the newly opened Mel’s pizzeria.

Rodriguez and business partners Jeff Katz and James Kent clearly want to take a break from the past and associations with Batali. Katz went so far as to post a video to Instagram in spring 2021 that showed a burning sage bundle — said to purify negative energy from a room — and various fine-dining instruments like white tablecloths and silver domes wrapped in the old Del Posto.

“Burn that damn sage and rip the roof off that mom,” said one commenter on the post.

Mario Batali
It has been almost five years since Mario Batali was brought down by more than a dozen women for sexual assault and harassment.
Michael Loccisano

“This is a new era,” said Youjin Jung, the chef of Babbo. “The restaurant was under great shadows. Let’s call it ‘orange shadow with a ponytail’.”

It has been almost five years since Mario Batali was brought down by more than a dozen women for sexual assault and harassment. As a result of the allegations – and what many in the food world saw as the exposure of a long-standing open secret about Batali’s behavior – the celebrity chef was quickly fired from ABC’s gab fest The Chew. In 2019, Batali was fully divested of Eataly and all of its former restaurants, a restaurant empire with partner Joe Bastianich that encompassed many of the city’s most famous and popular spots like Babbo, Lupa and Casa Mono. Now that the city and its restaurants are coming back to life post Covid, the impact of Batali and its cancellation is still being reckoned with. A new generation of Michelin-starred chefs such as Rodriguez, Lilias Missy Robbins and Carbone’s Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi are on the rise, serving up perfect plates of pasta to celebrities like Dua Lipa, Pete Davidson and Kim Kardashian. But some still hunger for the old days of Mario slogging through Babbo in his trademark orange, belting out carefree rock tunes.

There, and at other former Batali spots that are still open, like Casa Mono and Eataly, reservation books are almost as full as they used to be. The shadow is gone, but the legend remains.

On a recent night at Lupa in the West Village, a guest at the bar asked, “Is this Mario Batali’s restaurant?” only to be bluntly closed with a “No” by a bartender. It’s now a Bastianich establishment, and some staff say they miss the creativity and food focus Batali brought to the place, despite its flaws.

“[Bastianich is] all business when he comes here. He doesn’t actually say much. Some people take it personally. He’s kind of cold,” said one employee.

Jo Bastianich
Joe Bastianich, Mario Batali’s former business partner and judge on the TV show MasterChef.
FOX image collection via Getty I

And while busy, Lupa certainly isn’t as hot as she used to be. Across the street, the notoriously hard-to-reach Carbone sends customers it can’t accommodate there as a consolation prize.

Things are also going pretty well at Casa Mono near Union Square, despite a tough few months right after the Batali allegations broke.

CasaMono
Restaurant Casa Mono near Union Square.
New York Post Brian Zak

“We kept the Michelin star through all of this. The quality stayed the same. The name brings good talent to the door, but it’s really the team – that’s what drives it,” a former Casa Mono employee told The Post. They also noted that the Spanish restaurant, which is owned by chef Andy Nusser, has always been set apart from Batali’s downtown Italian spots and as such was better shielded from any allegations against him. “Everyone knew Casa Mono would be protected.” However, Nusser and former Casa Mono chef Anthony Sasso had to shelve their fully completed, never published cookbook after the scandal.

Other insiders said that the main talent in the Batali empire has always been the lesser-known chefs on the line.

“Mario hadn’t cooked in years. He was the guy who was on ‘The Chew,’ and Bastianich was the one who ran the business,” said James Mallios, a New York City-based restaurateur and owner of Long Island’s Juniper restaurant, who has many former hired Batali employees.

But with the intimate Italian Babbo, Batali’s absence was felt more strongly.

“It used to be full. You wouldn’t see an empty seat at the bar with no one waiting for someone to sit down. You’ve seen Kate Hudson before — a lot of celebrities,” Vicki Hersh, 42, a Wall Street broker who has been a religious patron of Babbo for 15 years and often receives and dines with clients there. “It was the most difficult restaurant in a long, long time,” she said. Now it’s just busy.

Babbo employees, like those at Lupa, also complained of a more tense atmosphere under Bastianich, who declined to be interviewed for this article.

“Joe is a businessman. He would work more closely with the corporate team,” the employee said. Without Batali, there is no chef who takes care of the kitchen like that. The employee contradicted reports that Mario wasn’t in the kitchen that much.

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Exterior shot of the Babbo restaurant in the West Village.
Getty Images

“Mario spent a lot more time in his restaurants than people realized… He was one of the last true food stars in my opinion. Check out Jamie Oliver and Rachel Ray – Mario happened to have a great personality and amazing Italian food acumen. He made incredible food. That propelled him to celebrity status, not the other way around.”

Many noted that Batali’s spots were a training ground for a generation of New York City chefs.

“I know so many talented people that came out of this group – and some of my best friends – and my wife,” said chef Wade Moises, who worked at Babbo in 2001 and ran Lupa and joined Eataly in 2011-2012. called. He is now a co-owner of LA Vita Italian Specialties, a New Jersey sandwich and pasta shop.

But, he said, there are also concerns about being forever associated with Mario.

“When I opened a restaurant in Arizona, people just wanted to focus on the fact that I work for Mario. I didn’t know that would be the story. And you think that’s going to be my whole reputation?” said Moises.

Not all Batali restaurants survived the allegations and thrived without him. The once popular Pizzeria Otto closed, as did the seafood emporium Esca in Midtown and La Sirena at the Maritime Hotel. Batali himself has gone dark and did not respond to a request to speak for this article

In 2019, a tipster noticed an update to Batali’s personal website, MarioBatali.com, that included a new image of the chef, in a vest without signature fleece, standing in a kitchen and the “Coming Soon” cliffhanger scrolled over it. When the website Eater contacted a Batali representative, they called it a mistake and the words were removed from the website. This followed a 2018 comment by Batali to New Yorker magazine, in which he said, “I will no longer live my life in public.” (Following the initial allegations, Batali apologized in his email newsletter with saying, “My behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility.”)

The most obvious place to see him now is in court. Batali still faces indecent assaults after an incident in Boston in 2017 for allegedly groping and kissing a woman in a restaurant. He pleaded not guilty and the case pending for trial will take place in Boston on April 11.

Mario Batali
Mario Batali, above, will appear in court in Boston in April.
William Farington

The NYPD, meanwhile, closed its investigation into the 2019 sexual assault allegations against Batali without filing charges. In 2021, Batali and Bastianich agreed to pay $600,000, which, as part of a settlement, would be split between at least 20 workers who said they had been harassed or discriminated against in the workplace, The Post previously reported.

Insiders say it’s doubtful he could open another store even if he wanted to.

“Usually in such cases you withdraw from the limelight, rehabilitate yourself and try to re-enter society. He’s done the ghosting part of it, but will people put money down? [to back any of his potential new projects]? I can’t think of anyone who would do that. What would be the benefit of a partnership? But on the other hand, his seats are still taken,” Mallios said.

However, some say Batali’s absence is still being felt strongly, despite younger chefs cooking up great Italian food.

“I think Del Posto was one of the best Italian restaurants and I miss it. We miss these restaurants. I miss everything. The ambiance, the service, the great food. I had one of the best meals there,” Stephen Starr, the famous restaurateur behind Le Coucou, Pastis and Buddakan. “The real question is who is the next great Italian star chef? There is no one who seems to fill these shoes.”

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