“It’s like opening the closet to Narnia,” says Scott Wiener, founder of Scott’s Pizza Tours. “You step in and you’re like, ‘what is this?’”
He’s speaking of Roberta’s, the notoriously busy pizzeria and restaurant in Bushwick, Brooklyn, owned together by chef Carlo Mirarchi and Brandon Hoy. Roberta’s is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this month.
“I hear people talk about Bushwick as Roberta-ville sometimes,” says Nick Anderer, founding chef of Martina, Maialino and Marta of the Union Square Hospitality Group portfolio. “They created a feeling and a vibe, more than just good people and good food.”
“They were able to create a place that people wanted to come—even though there was nothing else,” adds Dana Cowin, founder of DBC Creative. “They created a movement.”
As for how he views his own restaurant, Mirarchi is much more humble: “I think people can make their own decisions as to what they think the restaurant represents, and that’s what’s fun about it,” he says. “I don’t think it represents a way of life—it’s a restaurant.”
Roberta’s officially opened for business on January 10, 2008; Mirarchi recalls it being a very challenging time. “We didn’t have any heat, we didn’t have any gas. When we were making mozzarella, we had to heat up water in a wood oven which took f***ing forever. It probably took two years for us to feel like we had something that we could maintain.”
And the eclectic industrial space—bedecked with various knick-knacks and an in-house radio studio—was developed by sheer happenstance.
“This place looks the way it looks, not because we wanted it to,” says Mirarchi. “We built the space ourselves and it happened very haphazardly and in a very disorganized way, never working out exactly how we thought it would, which is good—I think it’s what makes this place special.”
Always pushing himself, Mirarchi began hosting a weekly tasting menu for four diners at Roberta’s. “We had taken the space right next door and we weren’t really sure we knew what we wanted to do with it,” he says. “The idea was for more private dining.” As the tasting menu grew larger, Mirarchi moved them into the adjacent space that is now Blanca.
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Blanca officially opened in 2012 where diners could feast upon a 20-course tasting menu at an intimate 12-seat counter. It earned one Michelin star in 2013, and a second two years later.
“People say that it’s a completely different experience, but in my mind it’s not that different,” he says. “It’s less crowded. But as far as the approach and general attitude, I think it’s very similar.”
Mirarchi notes that his approach to cuisine—of both restaurants—is to be respectful of both the ingredients and the diners. “And not going out of our way to impress people with nonsensical techniques or trends and fads,” he adds.
“Every day this place surprises me,” Mirarchi says. “We did not picture having all the things we have now. Between the bakery, the frozen pizza line, Blanca—all those things were not part of anything that we thought would be happening. When we first started, I didn’t think we would last 10 years. There were just so many struggles and hurdles every day that we had to overcome just to get open. I don’t even think we had a manager for the first 18 months. So that’s the biggest surprise—that we’re still here.”
“There’s only one Roberta’s,” adds Cowin. “And I think that in 10 years, if there’s still only one Roberta’s, it will be a very special place to go. And that would be a beautiful thing.”
Video and photos shot by Kathryn M. Sheldon, an award-winning producer, photographer and editor with a background in still photography and television production. Having produced food and beverage content for seven years at NBC, she is currently producing video content for the MICHELIN Guide.