Monday, November 14, 2011

Rocco Ristorante


89-year-old Rocco Ristorante at 181 Thompson is about to vanish from Greenwich Village. "Rocco's lease is up at the end of 2011," reported Eater, "and to renew, the landlord is demanding $18,000 in rent, a hefty jump from the $8,000" they currently pay.

Many landlords are doubling and tripling rents these days. If no one takes them up on it, the existing businesses might stay, or else the spaces lie vacant. But someone is saying yes to Rocco's landlord.

Taking over the lease is a duo of young restaurateurs, Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi, known collectively as "Torrisi." The group (there's a third partner) has a mini-chain of restaurants with two popular spots in Little Italy and a stand at Yankee Stadium. Formerly of high-end Cafe Boulud, they started small and have become quite powerful. Frank Bruni dubbed them "the newest darlings of the New York culinary set." Time Out called them the "savior" of "good old-fashioned Italian-American food."

According to Eater, they've made the deal with Rocco's landlord and quietly advertised the takeover on their website with a photo of the antique neon sign as if it were their own, all while Rocco's proprietor Antonio DaSilva was still trying to negotiate his lease. He told Eater, "We're fighting it." But the deal is done. Said one of the Torrisi partners to Grub Street, "We have a signed lease and we're going to be taking over next year."
A new business calling itself "181 Thompson Restaurant LLC" was formed back in June. Assuming that's Torrisi, it looks like the plan to move in to Rocco's has been in the works for some time.

Torrisi website

Why, when they can presumably afford any one of the many empty locations in the Village, did Torrisi choose Rocco's spot?

One Eater commenter said, "This is very sad, almost Oedipal."

Rocco has been here for almost 90 years, opened in 1922 by Rocco Stanziano. Mr. DaSilva is the great-nephew of Mr. Stanziano, making this a third-generation business. And the place still receives Village crowds.

Rocco ravioli

I wrote to Mr. Carbone and Mr. Torrisi to get their side of it. I asked them the above question and also inquired if they are planning to maintain any of Rocco's history, including the neon sign. They have not responded. If they do, I will post their answers in an update.

Update: I never did hear from these guys, but in 2013, the Torrisi team had this to say to Eater:

How did you end up getting the space? Jeff, you've told me before that it's a misconception that you took this from the Rocco people. Why would you argue that's not what happened?

JZ: Yes, it is a total misconception. Basically, we were brought to this space by a landlord. We never had anything to do with the Rocco people. What happened was that we were in negotiations for the Parm space, and that went on for a really long time. It went on forever, so we had brokers start looking for other places in the neighborhood while that was going on. The landlord for this space was also the landlord for what is now Taim, on Mulberry, and he showed us that space. He mentioned in passing that he also had another space on Thompson Street. He said he had banks and pharmacies and other big tenants interested, but that he wanted to keep it a restaurant.

MC: Jeff told me he was coming to look at a space on Bleecker and Thompson. I opened Lupa when I was 19, so I immediately said, "Oh, shit, is it Rocco?"

JZ: This space stood for everything we wanted to do. We knew it was right. The idea of bringing that space back to life was perfect. The misconception is that we came in and said, "We're going to pay you more money, get out."

MC: And I'm gonna slap my name on the sign!

JZ: What happened was, in all honesty, that unfortunately, this restaurant was closing one way or another. What shocks me is that, given all the other things this could have become, you would think that someone that pays tribute to its history is the best use of it. It's not a Duane Reade. That's something that I think is a big misconception. We didn't kick them out. The landlord and Rocco had their own thing, and we never, never got involved with it. It's those details that some people forget.


Bbethany7 said...

We would visit Rocco now and then when we hankered for a checkered-table-cloth-candle-in-chianti-bottle-
red sauce joint. Imagine our amazement 23 years ago
to discover a new menu of brilliantly executed, sophisticated tuscan dishes created by a new chef from Seattle. We went back regularly for this great cooking, until after 6 months the menu reverted back to the
peasant dishes of the south. I asked the prop what happened. He said, "We had to let Mario go. Our regulars couldn't stand his food." That's right, Mario Batalli. That said, I'm stunned that a Village Italian family didn't in 90 years buy the building. No one will miss Rocco's since the old-timers are gone. New blood will revive it.

Ken Mac said...

The South Village is slowly being squeezed. I thought it would escape the fate of the West Village, but surely its old haunt's days are numbered. Figaro, now this. Next up: Reggio? Montes? Cafe Dante?

esquared™ said...

won't be surprised if Torrisi pulls a Minetta Tavern or Fedora to Rocco.

Anonymous said...

I hate to finally say this but the West Village has been dead for a long time.To prove this--there are apts. for rent there at lower rates than the East Village but the noise,etc. may be keeping them vacant.

EV Grieve said...

It's all doomed. The new era of foodies don't care about history; only about creating their own.

Tricia said...

Who owns the Rocco's name and neon sign--isn't it DaSilva if he bought out the original owners?

Jeremiah Moss said...

Tricia, i assume it's Tony who owns it. he is the owner and also Rocco's great nephew.

Anonymous said...

Sad. Back in the late '70s to early '80s I lived across the street at 180 Thompson - Rocco Ristorante was one my regular places - somehow when I moved to West Chelsea in the 80s though, I stopped going - have very fond memories

StephenHalps said...

I have been going to Rocco's semi a few times a year since 1984. I am crushed that they were forced out. As a commercial landlord I do understand the other side of the story, but I wish there was a way for Rocco's to have stayed in business. I do wonder why, in over 90 years they didn't buy the building, but that's water under the bridge. I will miss Tony, the waiters and the comforting food and atmosphere that Rocco's provided.

Anonymous said...

To whomever it was that said "No one will miss it", I beg to differ. I'm a 47 year old business professional who has been going to Rocco for years. Some institutions of the great City of New York should NEVER be shuttered. Rocco's is one of those places. I have been going there for 25 years and I wil miss it greatly. It may not matter to the new owner's but I will never eat in one of their establishments, no matter what kudos they may receive in the NY press. Shame on you.

Anonymous said...


With each closing...MY New York slips a little further into the abyss....I will miss Rocco's!


Anonymous said...

We have been visiting Roccos every year at Christmas time with our kids for the last 10 years. they grew up with Roccos as part of our christmas holiday celebration and we are all very saddened to see them go....we will follow where ever they reopen and we hope they do
sue w

Anonymous said...

Better to have the old sign than to lose it altogether and better to remind us every day about the violence of the new guard---a message I'm sure the new owners don't realize they are sending.

Have gone to Rocco's since I was a child and to The Grand Totino (sp) too.... Very sad.

Anonymous said...

Very sad. Will not go to what opens in its place! Shame on the owners of the building! Rocco will be missed:(

A j said...

We have dined at Rocco's since the early 70's. The staff and owners became dear friends after years of Bussiness dinners holiday dinners and fun nights out.
We were always treated like family and even before we were friends we were always give something on the house.
The food was almost like moms
That's how good it was.
The lamb was my wife's favorite at Rocco's even the waiters new what she would order.
My children grew up in Rocco's with the best of times in NewYork and the post 9/11 days.
I remember my boss would lunch from Rocco's know Bussiness was slow to try and help them out.
I'm talking 40 to 50 people.
I remember when the first time after 9/11 the owner and I hugged and said to each other some of friends will never be her again. We both lost friends at WTC and some neighbors were lost in the area which we both knew.
I have no hard feelings against the landlord it's just Bussiness and even the owner told me Thomson street will never be the same.
We went by and looked in and was told do you have reservations which I replied yes but we left when the man stuck his hand out for a tip . Must I say more .

Bbethany7 said...

Mario Batalim a young newcomer to New York drom Seattle in 1989 (?) cooked at Rocco's for about 6 months until one day he was gone. I asked the owner what happened. He said,"We had to let him go. The regulares didn't like his food."

Anonymous said...

Rocco was a restaurant that I've been to many many times over a span of 40 years.
It was a real Italian restaurant that always reminded me of the family run tratorias I've enjoyed eating at in Italy. I miss it very much.
Richard Gagliardi