Rocky Cirino is a senior leader at the Altamarea Group, with management responsibility for Ai Fiori, Marea, Ristorante Morini, and Campagna and The Barn at The Bedford Post Inn. Prior to his expanded responsibility as Managing Director for the Altamarea Group’s fine dining properties, Rocky served as the General Manager at Marea, in charge of creating the special ambiance and excellent service that accompanies Chef White’s coastal Italian cuisine.
How did you get into the culinary industry?
At 16, my father fired me from his machine shop and I had a car payment. So I started washing dishes.
Tell us about Altamarea Group. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?
Ahmass Fakahany always had a passion for the restaurant business and when he met Michael White he found they shared similar values and goals. I would say at this point, the goal is to create a strong global brand with clearly defined concepts that all share the same focus of service and cuisine.
(Ai Fiori, Photo Credit: Evan Sung)
What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to Altamarea Group's success?
We’ve forged relationships with top shelf purveyors that have ensured a quality product enters our restaurants, while seeking out young hospitality professionals that we can nurture so they may lead this company to a bright future.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
There have been many trends that have come and gone over the years but I do believe the casual style of dining will stay as well as the increased focus on vegetable centric dishes.
(Ai Fiori - Tagliatelle, Photo Credit: Anthony Jackson)
Kharma is merely the unexpected result of being good to people in the past.
Altamarea Group's Motto?
Inspired Cuisine, Elevated Hospitality
(Ai Fiori - Trofie Nero, Photo Credit: Evan Sung)
Your greatest success as Managing Director of Altamarea Group? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?
Marea’s opening and first three years were incredibly challenging while very rewarding at the same time. As for difficult moments, I was was once passed over for a manager position at a previous job. I had to do a brutal assessment of why and what to do to rectify the issue. Real honesty, with yourself and with others is incredibly important. It saves time and builds a stronger foundation with your team. How one goes about that without hurting feelings is the true skill.
Your advice to an aspiring restauranteur?
The entire industry is founded on the desire to make people happy. If you don’t enjoy making people happy, and figuring out how to do that with a variety of different circumstances every day, this business is not for you. If this applies, then just remember to view every situation through that prism. How can I make this moment special for this person?
(Campagna, Photo Credit: Anthony Jackson)
Describe the ideal experience at one of AltaMarea Group's venues.
Recently I watched the Duke vs Michigan State on the big screen at Nicoletta while joking with Sandy, the manager, who used to work for me at Marea. The food was sublime and Sandy is lovely.
How important are architecture/design to the success of your restaurants?
Ambiance, service and food. There is a reason it’s one of the three Zagat measures restaurants by. If you have great food and great service but the space is without charm or does not make people feel good in it, you’re finished.
(Campagna - Filetto, Photo Credit: Anthony Jackson)
How do you motivate your employees?
I try to lead by example, every day. This means engaging with guests in an honest and meaningful way. This means clearing tables when I’m on the floor, pulling chairs for returning guests, taking orders if need be. I answer the phone as much as possible so I can demonstrate my tone and temperament with guests while getting a better understanding of the client wants. When you’re staff sees you there, doing it with them it fosters trust and respect. Meanwhile you can joke with them, rely on them, point things out to them. You get closer as a team. From there you can do anything.
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
The Taglioni with manilla clams, calamari and Calabrian chili at Marea. That dish once contributed 15lbs to my taut physique before I found self control. To drink, white burgundy, preferably from LaFlaive will do.
(Costata Tavern, Photo Credit: Anthony Jackson)
What literature is on your bed stand?
Rereading the short stories of John Cheever. After reverse commuting to our restaurants at the Bedford Post Inn for the past few months, the 1940’s commuter train vibe is getting infectious.
Role model - business and personal?
I’ve tried to take a bit of something from everyone I’ve worked with whether it may be what they did well or what they didn’t do so well. It’s important to put yourself in others shoes while they make decisions, learn through their triumphs and mistakes. If you are paying attention with a clear and honest eye (and not the schadenfreude lens many in our industry indulge in) you can learn many cheap lessons that save you pain in the future while making you better in the process. No one is infallible and the role models that people deify are as flawed as we are.
(Marea, Photo Credit: Noah Fecks)
Being Managing Director for the Altamarea Group.
Favorite travel destination?
Ohio to visit my family
(Marea - Astice, Photo Credit: Noah Fecks)
What's next for AltaMarea Group?
Our restaurant on 63rd and Park Ave. It's a big investment of time and money but it offers real promise in terms of adding something great to our portfolio and to NYC in general. In addition, the success of our second Nicoletta in New Jersey suggests that brands replication has legs.
Rocky learned hospitality management at Le Cordon Bleu. His early first front-of-house position was at the Four Seasons in Scottsdale, AZ, where he worked as a Room Service Manager and later transferred to open the Four Seasons in San Francisco. Afterward, he worked with Chef Gary Danko at his eponymous restaurant, Gary Danko. In March of 2004, Rocky moved to New York to work with Chef Daniel Boulud at his highly acclaimed restaurant, Daniel. After three years at Daniel, he moved on to become the Maitre’d at Cru. From there, Rocky was recruited by the Altamarea Group to join the opening team at Marea, to create a dining experience that combines seamless service, superb cuisine, an award‐winning wine program and above all else, comfort with style on Central Park South.
Under Rocky’s direction and deep commitment to the highest standards of service, Marea achieved the 2010 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant in the United States, as well as countless other accolades, including three stars from The New York Times, two Michelin stars, and most recently, induction into the elite Relais & Chateaux family.