2015 New York Rising Star Restaurateur Jeff Zalaznick of Major Food Group

2015 New York Rising Star Restaurateur Jeff Zalaznick of Major Food Group
February 2015

Major Food Group

New York, NY

Jeff Zalaznick was born and raised in New York, and always had a strong love of food. But he didn’t get into the industry right away. Instead, the Cornell grad went the route of investment baking for J.P. Morgan, later taking a job in guest relations at the Mandarin Oriental. But a creeping passion for food eventually asserted itself, and Zalaznick struck out on his own.

His first forays into food were web-based, AlwaysHungryNY.com and DinePrivate.com, the latter in collaboration with Joe Bastianich. But in 2010, just 27, Zalaznick met the guys who’d become his future collaborators: Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi, hot off the opening of Torrisi Italian Specialties. The trio formed Major Food Group, building on Torrisi’s success with Parm (the first sandwich-focused concept to get two stars fromThe New York Times), and renovating Torrisi as a boutique tasting room.

The trio clearly had some productive chemistry, with Parm locations multiplying and fine-dining concept Carbone coming into fruition. And the hits didn’t stop coming. Next came Carbone in Hong Kong and ZZ’s Clam Bar,  Dirty French, and the Lobby Barback in New York. And they’re not finished. Coastal Italian Santina opened on the High Line, and upcoming projects span a bagel-centric bakery/restaurant to a further expansion of Parm—all while plaudits, and James Beard nominations, keep pouring in. 

Interview with New York Rising Star Restaurateur Jeff Zalaznick of Major Food Group

Adrien Henriet: How did you get your start?
Jeff Zalaznick:
When I graduated, I had no idea what to do. I was a psychology undergraduate. I worked for two years at JP Morgan as an investment banker, but I hated it. When people were reading The Wall Street Journal, I was reading Food & Wine. One day, on a lunch break, I walked over to the Mandarin Oriental and asked to talk to [a public relations rep]. I asked for a job, any job. They called me the next day and offered me a guest-relationship manager role. I jumped in and eventually worked on all of the aspects of VIP service.

AH: What happened next?
I realized my passion was restaurants. I‘d been investing my time and money for years in restaurants. I decided to transform my experience into something digital. So I created a website—Always Hungry—at the same time Eater was being created. The website was nominated for a James Beard Award. Later, I was approached by Joe Bastianich to work on an equivalent of Open Table, but for private dining, and so I created Dine Private. Both of the websites have now been sold. I realized later on that I wanted to be the one creating restaurants and not just talking about them.

AH: How did Torrisi come about?
I wanted to do something Italian-American. Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi came up with a similar concept at Torrisi. I would go there all the time and we bonded. I wanted to talk to them about opening other places. But one night, Mario called me and told me he and Rich needed a restaurateur. We teamed up. Torrisi led to Parm—a casual Italian-American sandwich concept. The next step was fine dining—Carbone. Now the group has nine restaurants. Parm opened in Hong Kong. ZZ’s Clam Bar opened in June 2014.

AH: Tell us a little bit about your philosophy.
Human resources is very important to the group. We look for passionate people. It has to be a combination of love, fun, and also high professionalism. It is of paramount importance to give the staff enough room to evolve, get promoted, and be creative. That’s what fuels the group.

AH: Any advice for the next generation of restaurateurs?
Be passionate. Don’t be afraid to jump in 100%, you have no choice. Create room for your staff. Start small and learn on a daily basis.