Where is South Philly native and Italian-American chef Steve Martorano opening his latest restaurant?
The eggplant stack is one of chef Steve Martorano's signature dishes.
After building his business from the ground up, Italian-American chef Steve Martorano is opening a location of his franchise Martorano at Harrah's Resort in Atlantic City this July. Twenty-five years ago, the South Philly native opened his restaurant Cafe Martorano in Fort Lauderdale with only $40 in his pocket. He eventually expanded his foodie empire to Las Vegas, opened a second Florida location, and came out with a book. Creating his restaurant business without any prior culinary instruction, Martorano combines everything he loves from his childhood to create this Italian-American concept of food, music, and movies. He shares more insight about his food and next steps for the restaurant with us.
Why did you choose Atlantic City?
STEVE MARTORANO: [I was] born and raised in South Philadelphia. I have a total two in Florida and [will have] two in Las Vegas, and I just felt it was time in my life to come back home since I'm from Philadelphia.
What makes your restaurant unique among Italian-American restaurants?
SM: My restaurant is about food, music, and movies. That's the concept. I took Italian-American food that I started selling out of the basement in South Philadelphia—door to door, selling my food. Again, all done from a guy with no education and no culinary school. So when you come into my restaurant and you walk in at 6 p.m., I got Frank Sinatra playing. I consider him my godfather, that's how much I loved him. And then around 9 or 9:30, I have a sound system in all my restaurants equivalent to any nightclub in any major city. I have about 10-30 different flat screen TVs in all my restaurants playing all the movies that I like, that I grew up with, and the music that I grew up with. So at 10, the sound system kicks in like a nightclub. I have a DJ booth, which I spin the music and I bring in other DJs on nights when I'm not here.
Tell us a little bit about the menu.
SM: All five restaurants are the same. We're known for our meatball and salad, we're known for our eggplant stack. We make our own mozzarella, we make an eggplant with the tomato on top, more eggplant on top, then a little arugula on top. We're known for our home-style cheesesteak the way my mother would make it, different than the cheesesteaks that are in Philadelphia. So these are things that are on all of the menus, but the waiters have iPads [for the specials]. Now you can visually see what the special is, you have a picture of it. [At] Cafe Martorano, we don't even have a menu. Everybody gets an iPad so they can see everything that they want to order, so they understand it and eventually we're going to get that in all the restaurants.
Do you have any other projects on the horizon?
SM: My second book is coming out in October, it's published by Knopf [from] Random House Publishing Group and it's called It Ain't Sauce, It's Gravy. It's my life story with recipes. I'm a part of Harrah's, [and] they offered me a place at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel. So I'm going to keep the Rio and open Paris—that's going to be my fifth restaurant.
What advice would you give to any young chefs that are trying to make it?
SM: I always say to them, if you believe you have that talent, no matter if you got fired once [or] you got fired twice, stick to what you believe in. I tell them without failure, you'll never achieve success. It's three words: Never give up, no matter what happens. If you really want to cook, you won't give up. Never, ever give up. It ain't over until you win.
PHOTOGRAPHY VIA FACEBOOK/CAFEMARTORANO