We currently live in an era in which the right dinner reservation is worth its weight in gold. Popular restaurants in major cities will release a limited number of tables 30 days in advance which get snatched up in a matter of minutes. This behavior prompted the recent creation of Dorsia, an online reservation platform where customers can pay hundreds of dollars in advance just to secure their seats at a desired restaurant.
Luxury dining has gone through a significant change over the last few years. Earlier this year, Noma, a 3 Michelin star restaurant that has frequently earned the title of the best restaurant in the world, announced that they would permanently shut their doors at the end of 2024. This prompted many articles declaring the “death of fine dining”, citing horrible work conditions, including many unpaid employees, and an unsustainable business model, among the key reasons. As the general population has become more interested in food, they want more exceptional food in a fun environment, and less 20-course, multi-hour tasting menus, no matter how impressive the gastronomical feast is. In short, people are still willing to pay exorbitant prices, just for a different experience.
IMHO, no restaurant group has captured the essence of this transformation better than Major Food Group. Some of their most famous restaurants include Carbone, Sadelle’s, The Grill, ZZ’s, and most recently, Torrisi, which has just been named in the Top 100 best restaurants by the New York Times. Chef Mario Carbone, alongside fellow Chef Rich Torrisi, and entrepreneur Jeff Zalaznick have been creating hit restaurants throughout the US since 2011.
Later this year, the ambitious Major Food Group is opening Club ZZ, a new multi-level members only club in Manhattan West. Carbone Privato, an exclusive version of the wildly popular Carbone, will take up the second floor of the space, and the ground floor will house both their Japanese concept ZZ, and a tropical inspired bar as well. In addition, a 60-seat dining room will be reserved for founding members of the club who will pay both a $50,000 membership fee and a $10,000 annual fee. For non-founding members, the membership fee is $20,000, the annual fee is $10,000, but they can only enjoy Carbone Privato in a separate dining room. Even if you have means to afford a membership, every applicant must go through a strict vetting process before being approved. (Robb Report)
How does Major Food Group justify their business model? This explanation in an interview with Mario Carbone gives an answer closely related to that of, unsurprisingly, a fine dining tasting menu experience. “The closest parallel to what we do is theater.” Your goal in theater is to build a very believable set for the story that you’re telling. You create a script, you make costumes, and you put on the exact same show at the exact same time every single night for a different audience. We trade in theater and I think that’s something that’s palpable to our customers and a big reason why we have the fanbase that we do at this point.” (Maxim)
Major Food Group must up their game to justify this price tag, especially when you compare it to the perks that come with other members clubs. For example, Casa Cipriani, another popular members club in New York, offers a gym, spa, lounge, work area, outdoor deck, entertainment, and food. For Major Food Group, the key difference is that at ZZ Club, “food is the focus.” Major Food Group claims that every request can be accommodated. For example, members can ask Club ZZ to make them any dish they want as long as they are given 48 hour notice. Concierge at ZZ club will also source exclusive ingredients, like Japanese steaks, for members to cook at their home. (Robb Report)
Major Food Group is counting on their over-the-top luxury hospitality approach to propel them to new heights. Mario Carbone is thinking about the next evolution of his empire. Asking questions like, “What happens when we take our brand of hospitality and we apply it to a hotel? How are we catering to someone’s needs from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to sleep? So, branded residences, hotels, members clubs, restaurants, and consumer packaged goods. All these arenas we’re present in, and we plan on growing, for sure.” (Maxim)
For those who might be dubious of people paying the membership fee, there is one recent case study that might change your mind. Earlier this year, Carbone had a pop-up restaurant in Miami during the Grand Prix. They charged $3,000 per person, with a max capacity of 400 people per night, over the course of four nights. It was a more than successful endeavor, attracting countless big-name celebrities, and was packed all four nights. Major Food Group understands that for their clientele, there is truly no price tag for the hospitality and food package they can offer. As long as demand remains high, Major Food Group will continue to be there, charging you, every step of the way.