With ancestors who came to the gulf coast of Texas from Sicily in the late 1890s, Johnny and his uncle, Damian Mandola, spent their childhoods in lively kitchens, giving them a knowledge and love of homemade northern Italian food and the original Carrabba family recipes, which they still use in their restaurants.
In the early 1980s, while Mandola ventured out and opened two restaurants, Carrabba made a name for himself managing his Uncle Tony's Blue Oyster Café. The two came back together to create a new restaurant that would stay true to their shared memories of the kitchens of their childhoods.
The restaurant, named The Original Carrabba's, was born in 1986, followed by the opening of a second location on Voss in 1988. In 1993 a joint venture partnership was formed with Outback Steakhouse. Under the partnership 10 locations were opened in Houston and Florida. In January 1995, OSI acquired the rights to develop Carrabba's nationally under the name Carrabba's Italian Grill.
Today, Carrabba is the sole owner of The Original Carrabba's in River Oaks, an upscale Houston residential area. This restaurant is unique in design and shares some recipes with the OSI units. He also owns Rosie Carrabba's, which is named after his mother. Today, in addition to running The Original Carrabba's and Rosie Carrabba's, Carrabba opened Mia's. In early 2013, Grace's will open. This restaurant, named after his grandmother, will offer an upscale menu. Both restaurants are close to Carrabba's.
In keeping with his belief in family interaction and partnership, Carrabba's father works at The Original Carrabba's location three days a week, making from-scratch sausage and managing parts of the business. Carrabba's mother works at Rosie Carrabba's.
Carrabba and Mandola worked together on the PBS series, "Cucina Amore" and "Cucina Sicilia" and produced "Ciao Y'all," "Ciao Sicily" and "Ciao Tuscany" cookbooks from the series.
Cook is branch manager with C&T Design and Equipment Co. in Houston.
Starting in the restaurant business as a busboy and dishwasher in Indiana at age 13, Tom worked his way up the foodservice ladder, becoming a cook and then a bartender at age 21. He eventually joined management ranks at various restaurants, including the Bobbie McGee's conglomerate based in Scottsdale, Ariz. The company transferred Cook to Texas. He later ventured on to join Bally manufacturing and developed Bally's Tom Foolery restaurants.
Cook next became involved in the design and construction side of the foodservice industry, working for Phoenix of Texas for 10 years and landing the Landry's account. He joined Concept Services, an equipment dealer in Austin, in 1995. In 2001 he joined C&T Design and Equipment Co. and opened the Houston market.
Michael Dreef, AIA
Michael Dreef, head of this project team, is a registered architect and vice president at Eubanks Group Architects, where he has been for 16 years. He manages the Houston office and is involved in the majority of projects that include a diversity of customer residential and commercial projects.
A graduate of the University of Houston, Dreef learned about many aspects of the restaurant industry by working at exclusive country clubs and several institutions as a waiter and bartender while attending college.
As a self-proclaimed "foodie" and "wannabe chef," Dreef says he loves the connection to the foodservice industry that this type of project provides