How Carbone is putting its luxury restaurant taste in a jar
As the story goes, the seeds for LeBron James’ HBO show The Shop were planted in New York one evening in late 2015 when James and his business partner Maverick Carter, advertising executive Steve Stoute, Paul Rivera (who works for James and Carter) and the rapper Nas had dinner at Carbone, one of the NBA star’s favorite spots. In its 2017 title “Do Not Disturb”, Drake also deleted a reference to the high-quality, exaggerated reinvention of Italian red sauce joints.
[Photo: thesocialclub]These are the soaring, high-earning circles that intersect at Carbone, which now has restaurants not only in New York, but also in Miami, Las Vegas, and Hong Kong. (And don’t think Los Angelenos doesn’t hurt a bit that Miami got a Carbone before.) Now, however, you don’t have to snag that last table at Carbone to sample Chef Mario Carbone’s talents. It will be on your grocery shelf.
This week, Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi and Jeff Zalaznick – the chefs and co-founders of the New York-based Major Food Group (MFG) – are expanding into consumer goods with a range of three Carbone-branded pasta sauces. They quietly hit the shelves of the regional grocery store Stop & Shop in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, but are now launching nationwide through direct sales to consumers and through Amazon.
In 2013, Carbone and co-founders opened their eponymous restaurant, which has since been known for its retro chic and clever improvements to baked mussels, Caesar salad at the table and rigatoni. He says that’s something they’ve been thinking about for a long time.
“If you’ve got these restaurants, and we’ve been fortunate and fortunate to have them as popular as they are, but it’s still a pretty limited number of people per night,” says Carbone. “It’s wonderful to be operating in multiple cities now, but the opportunity that arises is that by building this brand through packaged consumer goods, we can actually touch an immense amount of people that we could never have reached. ”
Carbone is a luxury – the prices are as legendary as its service – and MFG has been dubbed the “Moloch with Red Sauce” for its ability to create food and experiences of the highest quality. How do you translate an exaggerated experience into a bottle?
For Chef Carbone, that answer lies in the beginning. “If you give the product on the shelf the same care and thought that we do in restaurants and try to be absolutely best in class when someone buys our product, you know,” he says. “That creates the next exciting opportunity.”
Your move is at an opportune time. The consumer pasta sauce market, like many other CPG categories, has seen the greatest growth at the top and bottom of the price spectrum. MFG is, of course, targeting what Eric Skae, CEO of Carbone Fine Foods, calls the “super-premium” market. “We’re a super premium product and there are opportunities in this category,” says Skae. “There is one great player and then there are many other players. There is an opportunity for someone to grow alongside this major player as the super premium category in pasta sauce just keeps evolving. “
That one key player is Rao’s, a consumer noodle sauce brand that was originally launched in 1992 as an extension of the brand. . . wait for it. . . An exclusive New York restaurant founded in 1896. Rao’s Specialty Foods was acquired by Sovos Brands in 2017 and has dominated the top end of the pasta sauce shelf. Does this trajectory sound familiar to you?
Dan Wald, global head of the Boston Consulting Group’s consumer products sector, says people across all CPG categories are generally more selective about the categories they care about, invest more in those products, and save on others. Most of the time, the categories in which they spend more are those with clear differences in taste and quality. The ones who warp more mustard than ketchup. “In categories such as salsa, salad dressing or pasta sauce, in which you can really distinguish technical advantages and taste profiles within a category, you see a stronger high-end market,” says Wald.
The other twist on Rao is that Skae, who has had a long and successful CPG career at brands like AriZona Iced Tea and Iceland Springs, is also a former CEO of Rao so he knows exactly what Carbone is up to. “We have amazing teams in our restaurants and Eric is a testament to that commitment,” says Zalanick, who says the goal was to make the Jarred sauce quality the same as the restaurants. “He’s the missing piece, the most experienced all-star in this field. We knew he would be an incredible partner to run this business with us and really bring it to the level we brought the restaurants to. “
Restaurants and celebrities transferring their brand equity to the CPG space are not new, but the bulk of this has been achieved through licensing agreements where a manufacturer and retailer acquires the rights to the big name. To ensure that the restaurants quality levels get on the shelves or e-commerce orders, MFG started this as a real extension under the name Carbone Fine Foods.
“With [the licensing model]You lose control of quality and all the different things that are so important to the identity of a brand like Carbone, ”says Zalanick. “That’s why we decided to do it. This is a real company. “
The process behind the sauces is key. The glass is cooked slowly for hours over open kettles, with individually opened tin cans with tomatoes from southern Italy, olive oil, onions and garlic, as well as hand-striped basil.
“The fresh oregano is even harder than the basil,” says Carbone. “We insist on picking fresh oregano, and if you’ve ever seen an oregano leaf it’s really small. When I first mentioned this at the factory, I didn’t get a standing ovation. But we do it. It takes time and is boring, but we think it’s worth it. “