Designs on dining

Owner Ramze Zakka, executive chef Albert DeAngelisi and owner Adam Zakka chat in the main dining room at the new Easton Restaurant along Greenwich Avenue. Photograph by Tyler Sizemore.
Owner Ramze Zakka, executive chef Albert DeAngelisi and owner Adam Zakka chat in the main dining room at the new Easton Restaurant along Greenwich Avenue. Photograph by Tyler Sizemore.

To Ramze Zakka, the restaurateur behind Z Hospitality Group, it takes three things to run a successful restaurant — great food, great service and a beautiful design.

“If one of those is missing, you have no prayer,” he says.

He should know. This fall, Zakka will open Mediterraneo Restaurant across from The Ritz-Carlton New York, Westchester in White Plains. That will be the seventh restaurant from Zakka, who has built a small empire of sleekly designed eateries stretching from New Canaan to central Westchester.

Originally a Texan, Zakka was working as a diplomat in New York City when he decided he wanted a change. That change came with an early 1990s move to Greenwich, where he opened his first restaurant, Terra, on Greenwich Avenue.

Terra will celebrate its 25th anniversary in October. From that original restaurant, Zakka launched Z Hospitality Group, which has grown to include six restaurants, with two more on the way.

But Zakka says he never imagined himself with more than just Terra. Indeed, he was originally looking for a way to do something simpler.

“I just wanted to open up a mom-and-pop shop on Main Street, small-town USA,” he says.

At the time, Terra represented a change for Greenwich, which he says offered only a mix of high-end restaurants and casual takeout places.

“We wanted a bistro with very serious food, beautiful design, but that offered a really great value,” Zakka says.

“Value” and “quality” are two words Zakka uses often when describing his restaurants. All of Z Hospitality’s restaurants are in wealthy cities and towns, where Zakka says people know quality food and can’t be “BS’d.”

“You have to put out serious food with a smile,” he says. “And if you don’t, they will go someplace else.”

At Terra, customers on the ultra-competitive Greenwich Avenue have been coming back for a quarter of a century. The next move for Zakka was Mediterraneo, which launched five years after Terra, also on Greenwich Avenue. (There’s also a Mediterraneo in Norwalk.) Besides these, Z Hospitality runs the restaurants Eastend in Greenwich, Solé in New Canaan and Aurora in Rye. The group will also open a new Terra location in Danbury in the fall in addition to the Mediterraneo in White Plains.

The key to this success, Zakka says, has been people who know and care about the business.

Our executive chef is fastidious with his vendors,” Zakka adds. “He buys the best he can get his hands on. All cooking is made from scratch,” with fresh fish and veggies delivered daily.

The executive chef he was referring to is Albert DeAngelis, who runs Z Hospitality along with Zakka and Zakka’s son, Adam. DeAngelis has been with Zakka since Terra launched. Zakka describes him as is the creative force behind the food for all the restaurants. Meanwhile, Adam runs the service side, his father says.

Despite the growth in locations, Zakka says the hospitality group still takes a mom-and-pop approach, with its three-person executive team. So after his latest expansion is complete, Zakka says the team will take some time to regroup before planning any more new locations.

“There’s no layers of management,” he says. “Just my son and I and my executive chef. So we want to make sure that what we open is successful and we’re focusing on what we have now.”

The new Mediterraneo in White Plains will be about 6,000 square feet once completed, including three separate floors — a kitchen and dining room on the first floor, a mezzanine about half the size of the main floor with more dining and event space and a wine cellar for private dining.

The White Plains location will seat about 150 people, slightly larger than the size of the Mediterraneo locations in Greenwich and Norwalk, Zakka says.

“It’s going to be a spectacular place,” he says. “Design-wise, it’s going to blow people away.”

Zakka says he has already hired a “top-notch” staff for operations and hopes to establish his niche in the city once doors officially open in a couple months.

“We don’t want blow (the competition) out,” he says. “We just want to come in and wedge a spot for ourselves and be part of the community.”

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