Being a partner in a top New York City restaurant is something many people dream of achieving. The old song lyric “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” is quite appropriate for the demanding Manhattan restaurant industry.
But Joe Campanale isn’t just the partner in one New York City restaurant—he’s the founding partner and Executive Beverage Director of four of Manhattan’s top fine dining restaurants.
Oh, and he’s not even 30 years old.
To achieve so much in so little time, one might think that Joe started out in life with some sort of silver spoon in his mouth—family money? No. Surrounded by owners and managers of restaurants? No.
Having a career in the food and beverage industry was somewhat of a surprise to Joe. He thought he might become a Politician, but somehow fell into the restaurant business. Growing up, Joe knew he loved food, but never thought that he would end up building a career in an challenging industry known for mind-numbingly long hours—sometimes with few rewards.
As the Executive Beverage Director and founding partner of dell’anima (meaning "from the soul"), L’artusi, Anfora and L'Apicio restaurants, Joe wears lots of hats, “I am on the floor of the restaurants 5 nights per week; I do staff training; I do different types of traditional and social media, including hosting a weekly radio show, “In the Drink,” on Heritage Radio Network; I work with the Assistant Beverage Directors on the creative direction of the wine lists and create some of the cocktails.” Still, despite this grueling schedule, I can attest that every night that I’ve stopped in to dell’anima, L’artusi, or Anfora, Joe is there with his boyish smile, and the relaxed and welcoming demeanor of a steady and professional expert.
Before the Manhattan restaurants and busy schedule, Joe was just a kid growing up in Queens, New York. It was just he and his mom—his dad passed away when Joe was only two, and they didn’t have a lot. His was a typical urban childhood—playing a lot of handball, stickball and basketball in the park and going to a public school with kids from all over the world: India, Russia, China, Mexico, Iran, etc.
But by the time he got to college he was writing papers about food, taking jobs in the food and wine industry and eventually enrolling in the Food Studies Masters program at NYU. “I think my passion comes from my mom. She is very caring and nurturing." recalls Joe, "I got started by working at Italian Wine Merchants, I was able to taste some of the greatest Italian wine.”
While in school he was hired at Mario Batali’s Babbo as a sommelier when he was only 23 years old. “Shortly after my future business partner, August Cardona, asked me if I want to open up a restaurant with him and the rest was history,” tells Joe. dell’anima was opened in 2007. Their second restaurant, L’Artusi opened in 2008. By May of 2010 they opened their third place, Anfora, a wine bar focusing on natural wines. L'Apicio opened in 2012.
Joe has appeared on television shows including NBC’s Today Show, Rachael Ray and Martha Stewart, and was named one of Food & Wine's Sommeliers of the Year for 2013. But it is his customers that deliver Joe the best rewards. “Without a doubt the highlights (of his career) are all of the regulars who choose to spend special nights and normal nights with us. Getting to know them has been the most gratifying part of the job.”
He also enjoys giving back to the employees, partners and community that’s been so good to him, and says he’s inspired by some of the other people in the industry who are dedicated to giving back to their employees and the community such as Bobby Stuckey, Daniel Johnnes, and Danny Meyer.
So what’s next for this busy guy still clearly in an upward trajectory? “Right now we are looking for a commissary kitchen space so we can open our catering business and then hopefully focus on a new restaurant.”
Joe’s glass truly seems to be overflowing. And, all he can say is, “I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to work in such a great industry.”
Luck and talent seems to be the perfect pairing for Joe.