Cecconi's: An A-List Dining Destination
by jen jones donatelli
It’s a Friday morning at Cecconi’s, and the restaurant is recovering from the previous night, when a throng of people piled in after a movie screening for an impromptu afterparty. It’s not surprising that the group chose the Italian hot spot to fête the debut—especially one of its screenwriters, who had signed the deal there just months before. Of course, no matter how hard this reporter pokes and prods, the staff isn’t giving up the boldface names involved—because that’s just the type of place this is.
It’s also the kind of place where deals like the aforementioned go down every day, although regular John O’Hurley is quick to distinguish Cecconi’s from more oppressive power-dining environments. “This is a more social place,” says the former Seinfeld cast member. “No one is looking over [your] shoulder, looking at who’s sitting with whom.”
Creating that convivial type of atmosphere is intentional on the part of Marino Monferrato, general manager and sommelier; Andrea Cavaliere, executive chef, Soho House Group North America; and their team. Cavaliere calls it the “Soho House mentality,” in a synergistic nod to its chic sibling up the hill on Sunset. “Nick [Jones] always says that Cecconi’s needs to be a home away from home,” says Monferrato of Soho House Limited’s CEO and founder, who took ownership of Cecconi’s in London in 2005. “We see Cecconi’s as an extension of Soho House—nice, warm, cozy, comfortable.” Cecconi’s also strives to create a member mentality with its “Friends of Cecconi’s” program. Anyone touting a FOC key chain is privy to an array of perks—from special offers on breakfast, lunch, and dinner to access to such events as exclusive cooking classes inside the kitchen, guest chef appearances, and wine tastings.
“Nick Jones first started discount programs back in the UK because he wanted to always have the restaurant buzzing with a great atmosphere,” explains Monferrato. “It’s our way of thanking the people who’ve been with us since day one for their loyalty and patronage.”
The special treatment certainly seems to pay off: Monferrato estimates that 90 percent of the restaurant’s lunch clientele is comprised of regulars, and Cavaliere says many patrons come in as many as five times per week. Because the restaurant is open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. (11 p.m. on Sunday), people often start their days with a laptop and espresso and end with a group of friends over a lively dinner. “We know what they like, where they like to be seated,” says Monferrato. “It’s such a mixed, eclectic crowd, from architects to agents. We [attract] a beautiful potpourri of diners.”
Cecconi’s has also built an impressive roster of celebrity devotees, including Halle Berry, Jennifer Lopez, Gwyneth Paltrow, and the Dancing with the Stars cast, and both Emily Blunt and Eva Longoria celebrated birthdays at the restaurant in 2012. Monferrato says it also attracts many Italian stars, thanks to its authenticity. “I see Cecconi’s as a place for European people,” says former Lazy Ox Canteen chef Perfecto Rocher, who hails from Spain. “It’s run by real Italians, and the result is real food.”
Yet don’t mistake Cecconi’s for a snooty, overpriced restaurant—it eschews what Cavaliere calls the “white tablecloth” approach. “People think this place is expensive or exclusive, but we actually want to be the opposite,” says Cavaliere. “Everyone is invited.” To that end, Cecconi’s provides free daytime valet service and hosts family-style “Sunday Suppers,” replete with roving magician and a $50 fixed price for four people.
The down-to-earth vibe extends to the staff as well. “They do things that go above and beyond, that create a special sense of a one-on-one relationship,” says O’Hurley. “Marino has gone out and valeted our car for us; I don’t know many GMs who would do that.” But from the Cecconi’s standpoint, it makes sense—after all, anything for family.
photography by Jessica Sample; stephen lovekin/getty images (blunt)