Dining

The Gift of Gabby and Gianpaolo

by Kelly Laffey Photographed by Luca Babini
Thursday, August 9, 2018
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Anyone who has been to Italy is familiar with siesta—the midday break that encourages people to relax and businesses to close. Though the concept sounds great in theory, it can be aggravating in practice. When does siesta officially start? How long does it last? When will the grocery store reopen?


It’s impossible to plan how siesta could impact an afternoon. So, most visitors learn that I che c’è c’è. It is what it is. Embrace what comes.


Gabby Karan de Felice and Gianpaolo de Felice are like siesta, in that they’re tough to pin down. One day they’re in the Hamptons. The next, New York City. And soon they’re back again. They go with the flow. But they’re not napping. In stark contrast, the duo is constantly in motion.


He is a business-minded Italian pilot, formerly with the military and then Alitalia. She, the daughter of fashion icon Donna Karan, has a creative outlook. They met in Italy while she was on a styling assignment with the New York Times. They embarked on a transcontinental relationship and wed in 2000. Together, they opened and manage a trio of southern Italian restaurants, two in the Hamptons and one in New York City, all called Tutto il Giorno.


I meet the duo on a June Thursday at Tutto’s Tribeca location. Gabby warmly greets me. Gianpaolo has to finish up a call. We chat about their new Sag Harbor location, which opened at 16 Main Street over Memorial Day weekend. It was created in partnership with Donna Karan’s Urban Zen lifestyle store, with the whole space channeling a comfortable, well-styled Hamptons living and dining room. 


Gabby offers me wine. Gianpaolo circles our table, focused on his phone. The chic but rustic decor and cool lighting, all styled by Gabby and sourced from Urban Zen, almost make me forget that it’s a weekday afternoon. I hesitate before I decline. Gabby instead suggests I try the avocado toast, which is on the spuntino, or snack, menu. I can’t resist.


Gianpaolo lands before the food does. “I’m the better half,” he says by way of introduction. Earlier that day, he had ridden his motorcycle into New York from the Hamptons. “It’s been exhausting opening Sag,” says Gabby. “But honestly, our life is like that…[Today] I said, ‘Why don’t we just go to Bar Pitti and sit outside and have lunch?’ That was really nice—to have [a] moment where it’s just about you and not about work. We probably won’t have another [lunch together] for, like…” She laughs as she cuts herself off.


“We have two teenage kids. We’re involved in charities. We have three properties we’re running. Our life is just super full,” she continues.


“And more to come,” interjects Gianpaolo. “Three properties, and more to come.”


As they navigate the ups and downs of running a business together, shunning the conventional wisdom that you shouldn’t work with family, “embrace what comes” just may be the de Felice motto.


Despite the immense popularity of the Tuttos, both with celebrities like Calvin Klein and Sarah Jessica Parker as well as everyday members of the community, neither Gabby nor Gianpaolo sought to create a restaurant empire.


“Doing restaurants was such a departure [from] what I grew up doing, which was fashion, styling and writing,” says Gabby.


“My passion is really in flying,” says Gianpaolo. “You never give up your wings,” echoes Gabby, as her husband jokes that his wife “chopped my wings off.”


The first Tutto restaurant was in Sag Harbor, at 6 Bay Street. It was a partnership with friends David and Gally Mayer, and Maurizio Marfoglia. “We wanted [a place] in the Hamptons. Because the Hamptons has the beauty and the water—so many things similar to Italy,” says Gabby, whose breezy personality matches the Tutto aesthetic. “We wanted a place we could have fun with.”


Gabby was drawn to the original space when she realized that there was a store next to it, which would enable her to tie a lifestyle component to the restaurant. The retail space became the original Sag Harbor Urban Zen. Donna Karan’s luxury lifestyle brand emphasizes what she calls philanthropy commerce—“We’re about dressing and addressing,” says Karan. The store sells artisan furnishings, clothing and accessories. Her Urban Zen Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness and inspiring change in the areas of health, well-being, education and cultural preservation. 


“My mother is such a big influence on what I do,” says Gabby. “So every restaurant I’ve designed, every home I’ve designed, has her [Urban Zen] furniture.”


Gabby manages the creative side of the Tuttos, taking on the marketing and communications as well as the interior decorating. Gianpaolo’s turf is business development. They both love food.


“On paper, we have separate roles,” he says.


“On paper!” emphasizes Gabby.


They have their differences—“He loves friends. He loves socializing. He loves people. And I love pretty little spaces,” Gabby says—but they balance each other out. On a personal level, that’s why they’ve been together for two decades. And on a professional level, that’s why the Tuttos work. People go there to eat well and to enjoy each other’s company in a place that feels like home. Key to Tutto’s vibe is Gabby’s desire to create spaces that reflect her own life. “I try to be super casual, because we’re casual. We’re not corporate at all,” she says. The furnishings in the restaurant are items that she would include in her own home. “When the owners have a hand in [a restaurant], you really feel that.”


Gabby and Gianpaolo met by chance in 1999. She was on break from a shoot at the home of shoe designer Andrea Pfister on the Amalfi Coast and decided to take a boat to the island of Ischia with a friend. Another friend suggested they stay at Mezzatorre, a fancy spa and hotel on the island. “We get into this car, and the cab driver didn’t take us to the hotel. He took us all the way to the other side of the island, to a fishing area called Sant’Angelo. There were no hotel rooms. We were completely lost. I was so stressed out, I was like, ‘Let’s just sit down and eat,’ ” recalls Gabby.


Gianpaolo, who was in town after being on the water all day, walked over to Gabby’s table to chat. She eventually left and found a hotel, “but I couldn’t stop thinking about Gianpaolo! So I decided I would go, in my slip gown, and look for water in the square. And there he was!”


“I was like, where are you going? Looking for water?” mocks Gianpaolo, with a tone that suggests that he found her spontaneous but quirky decision endearing.


The next night, Gabby went back to the restaurant to see him, but found him at another table with “a bunch of friends—and girls. So I got annoyed and ignored him.” She left, but couldn’t stop thinking about him. He called a few days after she landed back in New York.


Now, the family splits their time between their homes in New York and East Hampton, with frequent trips back to Italy, especially Gianpaolo’s native Naples. Gabby cites her mother-in-law’s cooking as the inspiration for their southern Italian restaurants. She makes “the best linguine and clams,” says Gabby, who adds that her own mother also inspired her to enter the hospitality business.


“I always went on my own path, [but] she gave me all the tools. I couldn’t do what I do without her,” she explains of her mother’s influence. “I think that’s why I went into the restaurant business. It fed into all the things I love, like having a home and creating a place that people love.”


The two remain extremely close, living side by side in East Hampton, in homes that Gabby styled. “I was always the guilty mom who had to go back to work right after Gabby was born,” says Donna. “Am I making up for lost time?” she muses of her relationship with her daughter now. “I always wanted to be with Gabby.


“The [Urban Zen] collaboration with Tutto is a life experience,” Donna continues. “Parents and kids come to play chess. They read books.” The new Sag Harbor space is more of a community gathering venue than traditional restaurant. Though there are teak indoor and outdoor tables, Tutto diners are also welcome to sit, eat and drink on the Urban Zen showroom furniture. As with the other Tuttos, Sag Harbor will play host to projects and charitable events that support the de Felices’ favorite causes and people. 


“We’re all about the community,” says Gabby. The restaurants, all of which are open year-round, emphasize local farmers and vintners. They’ve stopped using plastic straws in a push to help save the environment. 


Their family life is also community focused, although the couple’s 15-year-old daughter Stefania has little interest in taking over the business. “She made me promise that we’re not allowed to talk about [Tutto] at the dinner table, or on vacation,” says Gabby.


Their son Sebastian, who is 13, enjoys cooking. “[He] loves to make dessert,” says Gianpaolo. Juggling the family’s varied interests adds another element to their busy lives—Sebastian enjoys dirt biking and flying. Stefania competes in horse shows most weekends.


As a family, they’re also involved in charities, especially Solving Kids’ Cancer. The nonprofit’s annual event this past spring was where I first met Gabby. “I swear I’m not stalking you,” I joked when I introduced myself, referencing the number of times we had chatted on the phone, trying to fit this interview into the couple’s busy schedule.


“For me, this event is so special because it’s about inspiring your children to also get involved,” Gabby said at the time. “And, you’re really only as good as how you teach your kids to make a difference.”


In 2009, Tutto opened its second location at 56 Nugent Street in Southampton. When the Tribeca location opened in 2014, they sought to dig their roots even deeper into Gianpaolo’s southern Italian heritage. It was on a trip back to Naples that he discovered executive chef Agostino Petrosino. He was so impressed with a meal that he offered Petrosino the job in New York, but thought that the chances of him accepting were slim. “He’s married. He has kids. He called me back the next day and said, ‘I can come, but I need at least a week because I need to close my restaurant,’ ” Gianpaolo recalls with a laugh. “I said, ‘Done!’”


Not all aspects of running Tutto have come as easily. In 2016, Gabby and Gianpaolo parted ways with business partner Maurizio Marfoglia. As a part of the deal, Marfoglia kept the Sag Harbor location, renaming it Dopo la Spiaggia, and Gabby and Gianpaolo, with David and Gally Mayer, kept Southampton and Tribeca, as well as the Tutto name.


It was a difficult stretch, as the year prior, Gianpaolo was involved in a lawsuit when David Zara, his partner at private aviation company Zen Air alleged that he, among other things, failed to pay him his share of the profits. The suit was later dropped. Gianpaolo declined to discuss it.


Aside from those two blips, easy humor seems to define their relationship, and a casual can-do attitude has allowed them to completely focus on moving forward with great success—and little room to relax.


When Urban Zen left its Bay Street space last year, Gabby decided that it was time to find a new collaborative endeavor with Donna. “That’s when I stumbled upon this property,” she says of the new space, which was formerly Muse in the Harbor. The opening came on the heels of a complete renovation of the Southampton Tutto earlier this year. “It’s important to reinvent yourself,” says Gabby. “I feel like so many people just leave [things] alone, [but] it’s good to shift things up and change them around.”


One thing that has not changed, however, is the work that Gabby and Gianpaolo put into keeping their restaurant authentically southern Italian.


“It’s lighter,” says Gabby of southern Italian cuisine. “They make everything right with olive oil, garlic and tomatoes. And then they take those three things and put it on anything, whether it’s broccoli rabe, whether it’s pasta, whether it’s crazy water fish.”


“It’s really called pesce alla’ acqua pazza,” clarifies Gianpaolo. “But if you translate it, it comes out as ‘crazy water fish. If you don’t explain it, people look at you like, ‘Oh, you’re crazy!’ ”


“My husband teases me,” said Gabby. “He said to me before I met him, I didn’t know fish had eyes. He’s like, “ ‘You’re a New Yorker…’ ”


Though that may be true, Gianpaolo has seamlessly made the transition from simple Italian sensibilities to those of a driven New Yorker. “My dream is to conquer the Hamptons,” he says, envisioning a floating Tutto boat cruise and a Tutto-branded flight service from New York to the Hamptons. “My wife is a bit more easygoing.”


“I want to conquer having a life,” Gabby says.


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