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A Path of His Own

Laurent Tourondel Hospitality Director of Operations Steven Carro on peeling shrimp, the importance of failing, and the ever-evolving restaurant business model.

A Path of His Own
Laurent Tourondel Hospitality Director of Operations Steven Carro on peeling shrimp, the importance of failing, and the ever-evolving restaurant business model.
A Path of His Own - Steven Carro

W
hen Steven Carro meets with prospective hires, he does his best to dissuade them from getting into the restaurant business. “The first thing I say is, ‘Don’t do it!’ If you have enough people tell you that and you can get past it, then this is the business for you. You have to have passion, because, frankly, dreams of grandeur are great, but it’s about the minutiae. To be successful, you have to know how to peel shrimp endlessly, do the dishes, and all the nitty-gritty bits in between.” That said, he doesn’t know what else he would do besides work in the industry.

Carro grew up in Brooklyn and Staten Island, shaped, as many hospitality people are, by the cooking of family members: an Irish mother, an Italian father, and a great-grandfather who owned a speakeasy in the Navy Yard. Perhaps it was in his DNA. Sunday meals can be defining memories, and it was no different for Carro. Meatballs, pig’s feet, tripe, and lasagna dressed the table. “I learned what I liked and what I didn’t, like Spam and beef’s tongue.” But it was an aunt, straight off the boat from Italy, who opened his eyes to real cooking. “I grew up on third-generation cooking. Then along came this woman who smoked her own salmon, grew her own eggplant, and made her own pasta. When I tasted her food, I knew I wanted to go to culinary school.”

His uncle was director of the Friars Club. And so, at the age of 17, Carro started cooking there to save up money for college. “The moment I stepped into the kitchen, I loved it. The action, the team spirit, the fire, and the sharp knives — those elements of danger and excitement.” It was ripped straight from the pages of an Anthony Bourdain bestseller. Combined with a love of food, he was hooked.

Carro went to Johnson & Wales University for a culinary degree, his education punctuated along the way by opportunities, much to the dismay of his parents. He does not necessarily recommend the unique path he took, but it worked in his favor in the end. Carro started cooking at Café des Artistes, working his way from extern to sous-chef.

He realized he wanted to learn all 360 degrees of the restaurant business, and so he went back to school. At 21, he quit again to open a restaurant for a family friend in the Flatiron District. For all his enthusiasm, it was an outright failure, and he quickly realized he didn’t know anything about finance or wine and beverage programs. “That was an important moment for me. Failing at something was hard at the time, but it made me focus on what I was missing.” He began working for an aunt who was a CPA to learn the basics of accounting, and he then headed back to school with a focus on beverage and accounting. He landed his first real career job in 2006 at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. “I went to a career fair with this crazy resume, compared to my peers. I had a story to tell and it got me noticed.”

Today, Carro is thrilled to say that no two days are alike. The closest he comes to a routine is through running his weekly meetings. But everyday challenges test his ability and agility to multitask and react accordingly. And while he misses being in the back of a kitchen, he thrives on how his job evolves as the company grows.

In particular, Carro is keen to replicate the success of event space Second, which was nothing more than a blank canvas when he joined Laurent Tourondel’s team in 2015. “It was literally a construction site, and we had to figure out what to do with it.” They took their time, coming up with a name and assembling a team, and he feels they hit their stride two years in. “Today we have what I believe is a healthy business model, along with the successes of the Vine and L’Amico.” As the company looks to expand, Carro is excited at the prospect of duplicating variations of those stories.

He understands the importance of addressing an ever-changing guest experience, interjecting a healthy dose of social media savvy into the mix. He realizes that connecting the right people with common goals and visions in front of guests is integral to great service. And he knows that, ultimately, numbers are the name of the game.

He thinks back to his days of cooking 15 hours straight at Café des Artistes and then commuting home by ferry on a bleak winter’s night, of which there were many. He can still taste the thrill of the game and why he’s in it. For Steven Carro, it’s another great day to be in the restaurant business.