A first generation Italian-American born and raised in Brooklyn, Chef Tony Macaroni’s fresh, hand-pulled mozzarella, decadent pastas and larger than life personality will soon have a brand new home in North Tampa, when his first official restaurant opens soon.
Up until a month ago, Macaroni operated a fast casual Italian eatery out of Seminole Heights’ American Legion—not the most common place for a scratch kitchen. After slinging cannolis and gnocchi out of its tiny kitchen for almost two years, the husband and wife duo opted to leave that location to avoid a sizable rent increase.
Both Tony and his wife and business partner, Tabitha, state that their business was growing at a rate the small veteran’s lounge couldn’t handle. Their last day operating out of the American Legion was July 22, almost a full two years after they first started.
“At the American Legion, our identity was lost. People never really knew we were there, since most locations aren't open to the public,” Tabitha tells Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.
Get ready to see an Italian flag flying next to the Puerto Rican and Dominican Republic flag, because Chef Tony Macaroni & Co.’s first restaurant will open at Tampa Food Park, Carrollwood’s eclectic collection of food trucks at 5226 Gunn Hwy.
Macaroni’s restaurant will act as the park’s anchor restaurant, as all of its other concepts are either food trucks or trailers. The building will be accompanied by a large bistro-like outdoor patio, a beer and wine bar, a stage for entertainment, and ample parking (something that’s a little harder to come by in Seminole Heights.)
The owner of Tampa Food Park is also an investor in Macaroni’s enterprise, as the site is currently under construction in preparation of its flagship brick and mortar. The fast casual restaurant will have a '90s NYC feel, with graffitied walls, an open kitchen and maybe even a celebrity autograph wall. And to keep its northeastern vibe as bona fide as possible, Macaroni has several cousins from New York and New Jersey moving down to Tampa to help him run the restaurant. Like the American Legion, customers will receive a beeper after their order is placed and pick up their own food, as there will be no waitresses to tend to tables.
And even with a brand new restaurant and slightly upgraded menu and atmosphere, Macaroni is adamant that his prices will still remain affordable to all walks of life.
“Some things might increase from 50 cents to $1, but we really want things to be affordable for everyone. We don't want to alienate our current customer base just because we moved,” Chef Tony Macaroni says. “We want people to come dressed up, dressed down, dirty and dusty from the construction site—that's fine with us.”
The entire menu Tony and Tabitha offered at the American Legion will be available at the new restaurant, in addition to a few “fine dining” dishes like branzino, octopus salad, calamari and more. Chef Tony Macaroni’s new Carrollwood restaurant will also offer made-to-order personal pizzas and calzones, an aspect that their previous kitchen simply couldn’t handle.
“I went with the open kitchen concept because I want people to know that we make everything from scratch,” Chef Macaroni states. He goes on to explain his ultra-traditional practices he learned from both his parents and while working overseas in Europe—from hand-pulling mozzarella to spending hours on homemade pasta sauces.
When the new restaurant celebrates its grand opening at the end of this year or in early 2023, its hours will be roughly 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. throughout the week and 11 a.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, as late night entertainment will happen on the outdoor stage every weekend. Initially, the duo tried looking for a restaurant space in Seminole Heights to cater to its loyal patrons, but found it difficult to find an affordable location.
“After we chose Carrollwood for our new location, we found out that a large number of our customer base actually lived out there anyways, so it really worked out,” Tabitha tells CL.
Chef Tony Macaroni & Co. debuted at the Seminole Heights American Legion in the fall of 2020. At first, its 320 square-foot kitchen was supposed to be used for prep and storage for the duo's new food truck—a plan that quickly came to an unfortunate end.
For the first year, it was only Tony and Tabitha in the kitchen doing every aspect of prep and service, with Tony’s mom helping for a few hours here or there. The duo were in an undesirable financial situation after losing their startup money, shopping almost every morning just to get through a few days of service.
Loyal customers and their word of mouth—in addition to social media bolstering from local foodie Jennifer Xie—helped Chef Tony Macaroni & Co. become incredibly popular, even with its “hidden gem” status. It wasn’t uncommon to wait up to an hour for their fresh Mediterranean mussels, stacked Italian sandwiches, eggplant parmigiana and macaroni bolognese.
Chef Tony and his wife—self-acclaimed Disney fanatics that actually met on mousemingle.com—moved to Florida in 2007 to be closer to their favorite place. He’s bounced back and forth between the Sunshine State and the Garden State for the last few years, but the opening of his debut restaurant will surely cement his position in the Tampa Bay food scene. In fact, his sheer love and respect for all-things Disney actually inspired him to trademark the entire Chef Tony Macaroni brand like it was a Disney character—the little cartoon macaroni man and all. When you're speaking with him in person, your eyes naturally draw to the large "Chef Tony Macaroni" tattoo on his upper arm.
Tony and Tabitha are also up for their inaugural Best of the Bay award for “Best Italian Restaurant,” so make sure to vote for your favorite Tampa Bay folks, businesses, places, services and more.
For the latest updates on Chef Tony Macaroni & Co.’s upcoming Carrollwood restaurant, follow its Facebook at @tmacaroni21 and Instagram at @chef_tony_macaroni.