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The Gatekeepers: Dell'Anima's Joe Campanale

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Krieger, 3/23/08

Dell'Anima, the 5 month-old West Village Italian spot, commands the hour to two hour waits it does for a number of reasons. Exhibit A: an open chef's counter where diners can watch the chefs cook every dish and can literally feel the heat coming off the burners. Exhibit B: chef Gabe Thompson got his start at restaurants like Le Bernardin and Del Posto, and his cooking has already garned some positive reviews from The New Yorker, NYMag, and Bruni's Diner's Journal. And finally we have co-owner and general manager Joe Campanale. The 24 year-old did a stint as sommelier at Babbo before opening Dell'Anima, and while he oversees the wine program, he's also the one who will have to break it to you about the two hour wait.

Joe Campanale, General Manager/Partner: There are only 42 seats in the restaurant, but we have a lot of seating options. My favorite seats are the high banquette and the bar but we have people who will wait up to two hours just to sit at the chef’s counter. The low banquette is very cozy and when people want a quieter, more intimate experience, they request the back. 8 PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table? About 2 hours, but if you come at 5:30-6:00 p.m. we can usually seat you right away. Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter? Usually not, but kindness and patience goes a long way. ...How about gifts or cash to speed things along?

Definitely not. Tell us about your favorite customers? Any celebs been by recently? We get a ton of regulars, many who live in the neighborhood, and they are great because they have a sense of ownership over the restaurant. They feel that the restaurant is part of their neighborhood and see friends here. A lot of people in the industry come here too, and being open till 2:00 a.m. attracts a lot of post-shifters. Most of all, I just love having anyone who is interested in learning more about the wine and the food and treats the servers and hosts with respect. As for celebs, I’d rather not say who they are. I want them to come back!

How do you deal with VIPs, when there are no tables left to give? It can be tricky since we have so few seats, which leaves little wiggle room. I would usually buy them a round of drinks and get them the next available table as long as people with reservations aren't waiting for their seats. ..the owner's friends? Luckily my friends and my partners’ friends are very understanding. We would never overbook the restaurant because one of our friends wants to eat here.

What's the most outrageous request from a customer you've had to accommodate? For me it was not a request at the door, but one at the table. A woman wanted ice in her wine. I couldn't bring myself to do it so I gave her a cup with ice and told her she could do it herself. ...that you couldn't accommodate? We do our best to accommodate every request that we receive, but I have turned down some offers to close the restaurant for private parties during dinner hours. We get a good amount of walk-ins and I would hate to turn them away.

What's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job? A smile. When you're not at dell'anima, where are you eating? 'inoteca, Fatty Crab or grabbing wine and cheese at Otto.

dell'anima

600 11th Avenue, Manhattan, NY 10036 (212) 366-6633 Visit Website

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