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.
(page 2 of 3)
Tessitore sensed that the enoteca concept—friendly Italian places focusing on small plates and boutique wines—gaining favor in Manhattan would resonate here in Westchester. “I thought Port Chester was missing that type of dining experience. You could either go to Greenwich Avenue and spend a fortune, or you were stuck with a crappy burger. There was nothing in between where someone was putting integrity into a simple panini or meatball,” Tessitore says. His plan to fill that void? Provide items no one else was offering, like three-meat—each hand-ground—Bolognese sauce; gourmet bruschetta with Robiola cheese and acacia honey; panini with imported cured meats; and butter-pressed, hand-cut bread from local bakery The Kneaded Bread. (Hungry yet?)
“I knew that by offering items such as these along with boutique Italian wines, that people would come back over and over,” he says. “And they have.”
A Little Help from (Famous) Friends
But even with a great concept, great food, and a great location, success is never guaranteed in the restaurant industry, something Tessitore knew firsthand. The business is in Tessitore’s blood: His grandfather operated a bakery and a pizzeria in Harlem and was a longtime manager of Miami’s famed Kit Kat Club, while Tessitore’s father was in the nightclub business for 35 years. Tessitore himself “worked at every beach club in Westchester at some point.”
So he turned to industry friends to help him avoid some of the financial pitfalls that trip up so many startup restaurants. Tessitore enlisted master sommelier Jean-Luc Le Dû (best known for his tenure at Daniel Boulud’s famed Manhattan restaurant Daniel) to help craft nessa’s current award-winning wine list, and the two decided to feature only small, boutique Italian vineyards. These wines not only provide new tasting experiences for customers, but also keep costs in line for Tessitore.
“Jean showed me how to purchase wines of great quality at a good price point, instead of paying top dollar to the major wine distributors,” Tessitore says. Tessitore also made the decision to serve these boutique wines in quartinos instead of glasses, which helps to contain costs. “A quartino is a great way to control your pour because you go right to a certain line (about a glass and a half), instead of eyeballing it,” he says.
Wine is a good moneymaker for the restaurant, he adds, because you get a two-time markup and there isn’t much labor involved. Tessitore purposely puts the wine list on the back of each menu, instead of just having one wine list per table, to get everyone in the restaurant talking about the wines. This emphasis on vino pays off—while most Italian restaurants’ gross wine sales make up about 17 percent of their overall sales, nessa’s make up almost double that amount.
Tessitore also credits his Pelham Memorial High School buddy Michael Montalto—an esteemed restaurant consultant who has worked with the likes of Mario Batali and Steve Hanson (of B.R. Guest Hospitality)—with helping him craft a menu that reflects the restaurant’s culinary goals and also spurs customer spending. By organizing the menu so that bruschetta, antipasti, and pasta selections come before the main courses, customers are invited to taste and sample a variety of foods—just the way Italians do in their own kitchens, he says.