She began her working life as an attorney at a high-powered corporate law firm, but Donatella Arpaiaquickly transitioned into the restaurant world. At age 25, she opened Bellini in New York City, paying back a $250,000 starter loan from her restaurateur/father in just six months. In 2003, the Woodmere, Long Island, native struck a 50/50 partnership with noted chef David Burke to start davidburke & donatella. Early last year, she opened the Mediterranean-themed Dona in the former Bellini space. "Tapping into the alchemy that innately talented restaurateurs possess, she has filled Dona with a vibrant energy and a pampering air," says the New York Times. "If you took 40 years off Sirio Maccioni and gave him curves and a cocktail dress, you'd wind up with someone like Donatella."
We don't recognize a lot of the items you have in this fridge.
Growing up, I spent three months every summer living with my relatives in Italy. I ate one way there and eat another here, but I try to use European products even in the U.S.
Give us an example.
Breakfast for me in Italy would be a strong espresso with hot milk and a brioche or croissant.
And here in the U.S.?
It's yogurt — a European brand, if I can—and a Thomas's English muffin, plus an egg.
As busy as you are, we're surprised you get to eat breakfast.
There's time. I get up around seven or eight a.m. It's very important to me to have some time to myself in the morning. I try to work out every other day, too.
And then you hit the street?
Yes. First there are usually meetings about my food products or some computer work, then it's on to both restaurants to work the floor at lunch.
And after lunch?
If I'm lucky, I'll get a break about three. It's a big luxury when I do.
How do you handle dinner?
I shuttle back and forth between the two places. It's important to be there in person; guests want to see the owner.
That makes for a hectic day.
Yes. A chef can get away with not being there. I can't.
Because you're out front?
People come to my restaurants to see me, and they expect me to take care of them.
What do you snack on after work?
I always have some caviar on hand because I love it. I could eat it with a spoon.
And this foie gras?
I can't help it, I love that, too. Other than that I eat healthfully.
You've got a dandy selection of beverages. What's Chinotto?
It's a bitter soda from Italy. San Pellegrino sells it in the U.S.
We see your tomato sauce is in here. What makes it special?
Donatella Essential Sauce is the only jarred sauce packed fresh in Italy using San Marzano tomatoes. We also do a marinara, an arrabiata and a puttanesca.
How do you sell it?
Whole Foods and ShopRite are the big accounts now. We hope to go national soon.
What else do you carry.
This Fruttato extra virgin olive oil. It's bottled for us in Italy. We also sell almond cookies that are baked here in the U.S. using my Italian grandmother's recipe.
Do you ever get back to Italy?
This year I took two short trips there. I crave going back.
Make it out to Long Island often?
Sure, my family's only 40 minutes away. I go on Sundays.
Why not just commute?
No way! As soon as I got out of law school at St. John's, I headed for Manhattan. I'm a New York City girl now. I'm going to get married and have babies here.
| WHAT'S CHILLIN': |
photography by john falls