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Robert Guarino

Owner / Head Coach

Robert Guarino has quietly been the “Maitre D’” of Hell’s Kitchen for the past 22 years, a front of house fixture who is deeply rooted in the community, running neighborhood favorites like Marseilles, Nizza, Nice Matin, Five Napkin Burger, and now Sempre Oggi, his first foray into the simplicity and seasonality of Italian food.

Guarino traces his hospitality journey back to his childhood in Connecticut where Italian food played a big part in his upbringing. He made frequent visits to his grandmother’s apartment in the Bronx where pasta was rolled out from scratch, and with trips out to Long Island where his grandfather tended to a tidy backyard vegetable garden. “It was a throw-back to how his parents ate in Italy,” Robert recalled. “I loved how excited he was about the tomatoes and the zucchini when they came up. That was always kind of fun to see as a kid.” 

Robert decided early on that he would be in the hotel business. “In 7th grade, I wrote an essay declaring that I would go to the Cornell Hotel School and manage hotels,” he said. “We didn’t travel a lot, but I got it in my head that I should work in hotels.” 

By the time college applications rolled around, Robert had been working at a local tavern as a busboy; there he fell in love with the chaos of the restaurant business. When he did end up at the Cornell Hotel School, he interned at Restaurant Associates; and then went on to work front of house at seminal spots like The Sign of the Dove and Arizona 206, a restaurant that earned three stars without tablecloths, a formula that still appeals to him. 

He met his future business partner, chef Andy D’Amico, at Bolivar, and the two have stayed connected ever since, joining Simon Oren to open the French Mediterranean Marseille in Hell’s Kitchen. Marseille quickly earned a “2 Star” review in The New York Times, and continues to thrive to this day.  

In the years that followed, Chef Andy would join the team and together with Oren they would open the Upper West Side’s Nice Matin in 2003 and Hell’s Kitchen’s Nizza in 2007. 

The trio’s next creation, 5 Napkin Burger, burst onto the scene in 2008. With 5 Napkin, the partners created a new dining phenomenon by using the burger as the starting point for their brand while surrounding it with all the trappings of a true American brasserie.  In the 2013 edition of Zagat, 5 Napkin was voted as the 12th most popular restaurant in NYC, and in 2013 Nation’s Restaurant News featured 5 Napkin in its top 50 Break Out Brands Issue.

In addition to 5 Napkin Burger, Robert is the Managing Partner of New York City brands Playa Betty’s and Schmackarys. 

Robert returns to his idea of “casual” fine dining with Sempre Oggi, inspired by a calling to return to his Italian roots. “I am a third generation Italian, and I have been traveling to Italy and studying the language, gearing up for this next chapter of my career.”