Mario Carbone is a hard man to pin down. The chef turned restaurant impresario is the swaggering, cigar-chomping, nattily dressed embodiment of his Major Food Group’s Rat Pack–Big Night aesthetic, a friend of the fashion, music, and Hollywood players who fill his dining rooms nightly. In early-April, he was in Dallas, launching his third restaurant in almost as many weeks—a new concept, Carbone Vino is a more accessible sibling to the flagship Carbone, which opened next door in late March. “It takes years to lead up to what seems like an overnight thing,” he says of the rapid expansion.

Later he would be modeling his debut collection as a clothing designer at a weekend pop-up for his men’s-leisurewear line, Our Lady of Rocco, a collaboration with La Ligne inspired by his upbringing in Queens in the 1980s. (No less than the late designer Virgil Abloh D.J.’ed at the launch party some months prior.) His velour tracksuits and satin bomber jackets had a limited run at the upscale Highland Park, Texas, shopping center, home to a new outpost of Sadelle’s, his hit brunch spot in New York. After Dallas, Carbone was in Miami for the city’s first-ever Formula 1 weekend, preparing Carbone Beach, a pop-up supper club where he served 200 guests ranging from David Beckham to Nas and Janes Corden at $3,200 a head.

Mario Carbone, at Carbone Miami.

“This thing that we do is much closer to theater than it is to anything else,” he says. “You’re setting the stage. You’re putting on a production every night.” Little wonder then that for the restaurants in his group, Carbone works with designers on uniforms (Zac Posen at Carbone, Tom Ford at the Grill), obsesses about each detail (such as Ginori china), and even curates the playlists.

While Carbone sees the restaurants as stages, some feel like they are nightclubs in disguise, trafficking in the perception of impenetrability, as executed by their go-to designer Ken Fulk, the maximum of maximalists. However one views the scene, though, the food is generously portioned and elegantly plated. It rarely disappoints.

Some might wonder if their alpha swagger is still in style.

“They make theme restaurants,” says Ryan Sutton, the long-time dining critic for Eater New York, who has written positive and tepid reviews of Major Food Group’s restaurants. “But what’s cool is they’re bracketing the heavy story-telling with food that’s going for something more than you’d get in Lavo or Tao.”

Carbone’s original namesake restaurant, in New York’s Greenwich Village, where you might spot Kanye West or Kim Kardashian in a banquette with their post-divorce dates, opened nine years ago as a “period piece,” he says, “this midcentury, fine-dining Italian-American thing.” Though Carbone and his partners, co-chef Rich Torrisi and financier Jeff Zalaznick, run nearly two dozen restaurants these days—in New York, Miami, Hong Kong, Las Vegas—reservations remain consistently scarce.

During the first pandemic lockdown in New York, demand was so ferocious for spicy rigatoni vodka, veal parmesan, and other Carbone staples that there was almost a stampede outside the original restaurant. “There were so many bike messengers and delivery guys, the cops had to come break it up,” says Carbone.

“This thing that we do is much closer to theater than it is to anything else,” he says. “You’re setting the stage. You’re putting on a production every night.”

The Miami Carbone has been booked solid since it opened across from Joe’s Stone Crab on South Beach in early 2021. While the pandemic has been punishing for much of the restaurant business, Carbone and his partners have, all things considered, done exceptionally well.

“They’re abiding by the Warren Buffet-ism of being greedy while others are being fearful,” says Sutton.

“It became obvious Florida was going to stay open for business,” says Carbone, who followed Zalaznick down to Miami, where both now live full-time. (Only Torrisi remains based in New York.)

But while expansionism is not the rage among all restaurateurs, for now the results are strongly in their favor. In the last two years, Major Food Group has been on a tear, partnering on new spots with power players in the hotel, real-estate, sports, and fashion worlds. They launched a private club, ZZ’s Club, in Miami’s Design District, and another, the Crown Club, in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, serving greatest hits from their New York restaurants to V.I.P.’s at N.B.A. games. And just a week ago they announced that another ZZ’s will open this year in a three-story, 25,000-square-foot space in New York’s Hudson Yards. Early last year, while international borders were still closed, a Sadelle’s outpost debuted at the new Kith store in Paris. “Ronnie [Feig], who owns Kith, is a very close friend of ours,” says Carbone. The initial staff training took place over Zoom.”

Tasty, rich food …

At the start of this year, a Miami Sadelle’s opened in Coconut Grove. Another followed a few months later, at the newly refurbished and rebranded Boca Raton Resort. Recently Carbone and his partners announced plans to launch their own branded condominium tower, Major, in partnership with developer Michael Stern.

“It’s an extension of our hospitality and storytelling applied to 24 hours in somebody’s life,” says Carbone of the project, which is in the early planning stage. “We’re going to have our hands in everything from the pool club to breakfast to nightlife.”

Soon Carbone and Torrisi, who met in culinary school and cooked together at Café Boulud, will revive their first project as partners, launching a new iteration of Torrisi Italian Specialties, the diminutive Italian-American deli they opened in New York’s Little Italy in 2009 that seemed to be Jay-Z’s private dining room. At night, the shoebox space served tasting menus, an evolving collection of Italian-ish dishes featuring the polyglot flavors of classic New York. There might have been a Russ & Daughters crostini with everything-bagel spice or cavatelli with a Jamaican-beef-patty ragu.

… and ice-cold, stiff drinks.

Their restaurant-deli hybrid, which closed in 2014, returns this summer as Torrisi Deli and Restaurant, in a much larger space in the Puck Building, just up Mulberry Street. Prepared foods in gleaming display cases will be the focus by day, with more serious sit-down dining at night (à la carte this time). “I want it to be sensory overload when you walk in, food and smells and excitement,” says Torrisi.

Over the years, as their Major Food Group began growing, starting with the launch of the Grill in the old Four Seasons restaurant space in 2017, Carbone began stepping away from the kitchen, assuming a more public-facing, concept-creation role.

“Mario loves the other parts of putting a restaurant together, the other parts of the story,” says Torrisi, who is now culinary director for the group, overseeing new-menu creation. Torrisi has been working on dishes for his new namesake restaurant since early last year—construction delays pushed the planned opening back from last fall. “It’s a real jam session,” says Carbone, of the recipe testing.

The new Torrisi, like Major Food Group’s other spots in the city, will be a quintessentially New York restaurant. “You feel New York when you’re in these restaurants we created.” says Torrisi.

Jay Cheshes writes about art, culture, food, travel, and crime. He regularly contributes to The Wall Street Journal and WSJ. He trained as a chef at the Culinary Institute of America and has served as a restaurant critic for Gourmet and Time Out New York