Port Chester’s Nessa: Restaurateur Marc Tessitore’s Profitable Enoteca
You won’t find any trendy food and cringe-worthy price tags here, and that’s why Tessitore’s plan works: Please stomachs, please wallets and keep people coming back for more. And have plenty of zeppoles ready, too.
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On Tuesday nights at Port Chester hotspot nessa, customers can feast on a half-order of handmade cavatelli with imported sausage and sage for a mere $5. Pair the pasta with the Nessa Salad (arugula, vine-ripened tomato, fennel, shaved Parmesan, lemon dressing) and a quartino of Barolo, and you’ve got a killer weeknight meal that doesn’t break the bank. This formula of simple yet high-quality food at reasonable prices has been the recipe for nessa’s success—both culinary and financial—since it opened in 2006.
The 86-seat restaurant, which serves some 35,000 guests each year, has been voted Best of Westchester (Wine List and Dessert: Nutella Panini), and is a perennial favorite among visitors to the now-booming Port Chester food scene. Skipping sky-high prices and trendy food may be anathema to some restaurateurs, but it makes perfect sense to nessa owner Marc Tessitore—especially in today’s economic climate. “People don’t want to see a $45 steak on the menu right now,” says the lively 41-year-old Bronx native.
Tessitore doesn’t want such pricey dishes on his menu anyway—he prefers to feature less expensive items, execute them perfectly, and mark them up enough to make a profit, but not so much that customers are turned off. “If swordfish is hailing at $14 a pound and you can only make a two-time mark-up on it, why buy it? Instead, buy monkfish at $6 a pound, earn a three-time mark-up, and do a great puttanesca,” he explains. “There is no less integrity in doing that if you are making the best monkfish anyone has ever had.”
It’s an approach that pleases diners’ stomachs—and their wallets. And it’s brought return on investment for Tessitore, who carried nessa to profitability in its first year of operation, just as he did with his previous restaurant, Edo Japanese Steakhouse in Port Chester.
Making Passion Profitable
Thriving in Westchester’s highly competitive restaurant market takes a combination of passion and business savvy, says Tessitore. The most crucial element of success in this business is to have "an unprecedented desire to be the absolute best at what you are doing,” he explains. Second on the list is finding a niche in the market. “If you are not filling a real void, you are entering into someone else’s dream already fulfilled, and that is futile,” he says. Third is knowing your numbers—demographics, psychographics, and traffic are all key, he notes.
With nessa (which is named after his wife, Vanessa), Tessitore hits squarely upon this self-described success trifecta. The restaurant’s downtown Port Chester location—sandwiched between Rye, Greenwich, and Byram, Connecticut—offers excellent population density; easy access to I-95, I-287, and the Merritt Parkway; and some 29,000 cars—all carrying potential customers—passing by each day. Tessitore purchased the building that houses nessa in 2006 (for a fraction of what he would have paid in nearby Greenwich or Rye) at the beginning of Port Chester’s dining explosion, preceding the likes of Tarry Lodge, bartaco, Arrosto, et al.
“Purchasing the building was a long-term strategy that makes a lot of fiscal sense," he notes. "It also meant a huge investment up front and less operating capital going in.”