Brooklyn’s Italian restaurants flooded by fake relatives, owners say

Brooklyn’s Italian restaurants flooded by fake relatives, owners say
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Name-dropping customers who want hook-ups at Italian restaurants have a suspiciously and hilariously loose definition of “famiglia,” Brooklyn restaurateurs say.

Patrons seeking free grub and reserved tables are capitalizing on the family-centric culture by claiming they’re related to restaurant owners — especially proprietors unfortunate enough to have their names on their storefronts.

At Giovanni’s Brooklyn Eats in Windsor Terrace, manager Michelle Pagliarella claims customers often pull the “cousin card” when trying to reserve a table, sometimes after they learn the place doesn’t take reservations.

“They say, ‘I know Giovanni; he’s family — put me down for four,’ ” she said. “Everybody thinks they know him.”

But there’s one dead giveaway: most of Giovanni’s real blood relatives call him “Jon.”

Of course, name-dropping isn’t just limited to the borough’s roughly 400 Italian joints — hostesses at great restaurants everywhere witness the same thing. But there are a couple of factors that make the kitchen-side phenomena flare up like a brick oven, Italian food experts say.

Esquire magazine food writer and author John Mariani said Italian restaurateurs in the borough often create a warm, Sicilian-inspired “mom-and-pop”-style atmosphere — which can make a regular feel, well, like family.

Those owner-operated joints also tend to skip somewhat-high-tech software such as OpenTable, which allows wait staff to make who’s-who notes about “important tables,” including the location of movie stars, big spenders, or relatives of owners.

“It tells them if you’re the president of Goldman Sachs or if you ordered the expensive merlot last time — but mom-and-pops don’t usually screen people that way.”

Jon of Giovanni’s Brooklyn Eats sure doesn’t — and he’s not the only pasta slinger who apparently has a bajillion “brothers.”

Anthony Caravello, who runs Francesco’s — a Carroll Gardens pizzeria named after his father, Frank — said a handful of regulars are guilty of gunning for less-than-honest tiramisu comps.

“Everyone likes to feel special and important,” said Caravello. “It’s a cultural thing — you send over a glass of wine.”

Caravello draws the line when people accidently call him “Frank.”

Vito Randazzo, owner of Graziella’s in Fort Greene, has some lines of his own.

Folks sometimes claim to be his cousin in order to score rooftop seating — but they usually don’t get away with it, thanks to manager Frank Clemente’s investigative skills, which happen to be sharper than aged parmigiano.

“Sometimes I’ll just say, ‘Sorry, sir, Vito doesn’t know you,’ ” Clemente said.

Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at [email protected] or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.