Torrisi’s Potential Price Hike & 12-15 Course Menu

Torrisi Italian Specialties, the critically-acclaimed, no-reservations, Italian-American joint in Manhattan’s Nolita District, increased the price of its four-course menu from $45 to $50 in April of 2010. That was 15 months ago. The price is still $50. And the place is still packed every night. 

That’s why The Price Hike is honoring Torrisi’s Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi in our EVEN STEVEN series, which highlights restaurateurs that have maintained stable prices for a year or longer, an impressive feat amid rampant global food inflation. To learn more about how this 25-seat spot keeps things EVEN, we turned to chef Carbone, whose spoke with The Price Hike via phone on Saturday about the outlook for price increases and the prospects for a longer tasting menu. Full Q&A after the jump: 

How do you keep a stable price point? “It’s definitely not easy. It’s a commitment to saying, as a group, we’re not going to change the price for a while no matter what, and kind of being diligent about what’s coming in, being smart about what we’re buying… it’s a concious effort on our behalf to say that it’s going to be $50 for a while… We’ve definitely suffered a little bit because of it. It’s not easy, we could charge more. I think we overdeliver on that number, but that’s a good posiiton for us to be in. We’re the new kids on the block; we want people to be comfortable what they’re paying.”

What type of menu limitations does the $50 price point impose on you? “Luxury ingredients are very very tricky, and at times it’s just not something we can do and we’re just not that style of restaurant yet… .protein is very hard, protein is not something that we can go giving these giant portions of these primary cuts to people, with our meat entrees…We go about serving it in as high a quality as possible…using all of our ability to make a secondary and tertiary cut that doesn’t cost a lot of money, treating it as elegantly as possible so at the end of the day your entree of veal neck is something you felt really good about because we went above and beyond on our end in the preparation of it, but I bought it at $4-$5 a pound, instead of at $15-$16 a pound. That’s the only way I can serve veal right now.” 

"The other thing is fish is wildly all over the place. We buy exclusively local fish, so right there that takes a lot of the market of fish away from us, which we’re okay with. Stylistically we want to buy only local fish… .Striped bass one day is $3.50 a pound and the next day it’s $7.50 a pound. So it goes from on my menu to off my menu. We can literally erase it off the chalkboard and write something else in and all of a sudden striped bass becomes skate. A lot of restaurants don’t have that luxury; striped bass is on the menu and it has to be on the menu for whatever reason.”

Are you taking a hit on labor? “My labor cost is definitely higher than it should be. Right now, we’re housing a lot of staff who will be at Parm next door, so that naturally drives it up. I’ve definitely beefed up service in the front of the house.”

Do you have any immediate plans to raise the price of the set menu? “I thing eventually its gotta recalibrate itself a little bit. [When Torrisi temporarily closes in late September], we want to work on the next year, the next life, the next phrase of this restuarnat… Rich and I want to provide amenities for our guests. So that’s in wine, in space; right now people kind of eat on top of each other and i’d like that to not be the case. We’re gonna open up the dining room a litle bit by taking out the deli stuff… There will be a little bit more space for wine…there’s just the next phase of where we want to take this restaurant and it’s entirely driven by amenities.”

What might that menu price “recalibration” occur? I would say by October, we’re going to reopen. We don’t have a number quite yet set in stone. We need to crunch the numbers… We invested most of year one’s money back into the business, because we want to see it grow, not so much monetarily, but grow as we get older and as we grow and as we want to show our breadth of ability, we want the restaurant to do the same.”

[Carbone confirmed, in an email exchange after the interview, that Torrisi’s closure will occur for 7-10 days in late September, and that upon reopening there will be “an additional extended tasting menu option, somewhere in the neighborhood of 12-15 courses.”]

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