5 questions with Joe Bastianich (including the one about Eataly)
The costar of CNBC's "Restaurant Startup" talks about great ideas and how the move toward quality ingredients is trickling down to all levels of dining.
One of the most entertaining and enlightening food reality shows out there is CNBC's Restaurant Startup, whose season finale is Tuesday, March 17 at 10 p.m.
It's not a cooking show. Befitting its home on CNBC, it's business.
In a Shark Tank-y approach, eager entrepreneurs go before restaurateurs Joe Bastianich and Tim Love, who put their own money only on what they believe are viable business ideas.
I'm not a betting man, but I would still lay strong odds that Restaurant Startup will be back for a third season.
For a look inside the head of Bastianich, check his 2012 autobio Restaurant Man, the frank, salty story of how the New York-bred, prep-school-educated son of restaurateurs Lidia and Felice Bastianich met Mario Batali and created an international empire that has spread to the Italian food emporium Eataly.
I rang him up and tossed out a few questions.
Q. How easily can you tell if a business will work?
A. A lot of it is a feeling. Sometimes it's the food, and sometimes it's a feeling about someone. ... I'm correct more than I've been wrong. I have a certain instinct. I will pay myself that compliment.
Q. If you and Mario had gone on your show when you were planning Babbo, how would you have done with today's TV version of you and Tim?
A. We would have done great. We came from a bit of the old school. We were operating restaurants before the media [made it sexy], when restaurants were a job and a way to make a living. We keep it simple. We buy [stuff], we fix it up and we sell it."
Q. What have you learned from the show?
A. What I have done [in the business] is New York- and California-centric, and I'm impressed about the entrepreneurs all over the country. The amount of people who are out there, aspiring to make money and become successful is astounding - people from all over, places like Oklahoma and Nebraska and Ohio.
Q. Where is the restaurant or retail food world going?
A. Chefs are reaching out, across all sectors and price points, to source the right kind of product. It's a move toward equalization. Everyone should have the economic ability to eat quality, sustainably raised food at all times. Proper food should not be unaffordable. That should be the right of every person. I think the trickling down from fine dining is driving this.
Q. What's the best idea you've seen on the show?
A. Banza Pasta - it's 100 percent chickpea, so it's gluten-free and good for people with celiac issues. I also think Baby's Bad Ass Burgers - in a crowded burger market, they have great messaging. We're going to franchise them.
Q. We have been hearing rumors about Eataly coming to Philadelphia. Well?
A. Definitely. We have talked to Marc Vetri about this. ... Philadelphia is definitely very much on our list of food cities. We're looking forward to getting Marc involved. He is a great ambassador of authentic Italian food and culture in America.
Bastianich offered no clue about location or timetable. Vetri said he feels honored about the shout-out and said, "We can only hope" about getting Eataly. "I'm a big, big fan," he said/.