Honoring a Food Giant

A tribute to restaurateur Tony May, by Bob Lape

| 11 Apr 2022 | 01:45

Earlier this month, Tony May, the restaurateur pivotal in bringing fine Italian dining to NY, passed. At another point in my writing career, I was a food reviewer for Our Town and called myself Thea Sands. That was in the paper’s early days when I had occasion to meet Tony May. Also had the pleasure of meeting Bob Lape who was known as “The Restaurant Encyclopedia” during his 50 years of New York-based reporting.

Bob’s Eyewitness News Gourmet on WABC-TV was the harbinger of food TV. He reviewed restaurants for the New York Law Journal for 15 years and Crain’s New York Business for 24, and “Bob Lape’s Dining Diary” aired 15 times weekly on WCBS Newsradio 880 for 30 years. He also wrote columns and dining guides for publications including the Magazine of La Cucina Italiana. Bob knew Tony May, and I thought who better to tell us about Tony.

So here’s a tribute to Tony, by Bob Lape:


The Giant of Italian food and hospitality loved the game of golf, played it all over the world and was stricken early this month on a course in Florida. Rushed home to New York, Tony died at age 84.

It’s quite impossible to imagine the restaurant scene without Tony May in either America or Italy. The oldest of eight children born to a sea captain near Naples, his indomitable drive landed him in New York in his mid-twenties. Apprenticing abroad and on cruise ships steeped him in food, service and language skills.

Starting high – captain at the Rainbow Room – he would in time run the powerhouse, before launching legends like San Domenico, Palio, SD26, Gemelli, Pasta Break, Sandro’s, and Hostaria. All elevated the form, many with striking contemporary decor. His wondrously talented daughter Marisa partnered with him on many, and they were readying another soon in midtown. The May.

Mr. May’s passion for true Italian cuisine fired a fierce flair for educating all in his path to authentic products and techniques. He founded the Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani, exposing Italian-American-born restaurant owners and food media to regional ingredients, wines and styles every year. It was a two-way street. Owners from coast to coast upgraded their offerings, and Italian farmers, vintners and other merchants found new markets. I accompanied the visiting owners and chefs to a dozen regions to watch, eat and report.

Meantime, Mr. May’s brilliance as talent scout for his own venues introduced New Yorkers to kitchen stars such as Valentino Marcatilii, Theo Schoenegger, Paul Bartolotta, Odette Fada, Sandro Fioriti, Andrew Carmellini and more.

Tony May endowed and inspired culinary schools and scholarships in America and Italy. Among his countless honors was The Commendatore della Republica, presented by the President of Italy.

His reservations book may be closed, but he will remain as the biggest spoon stirring our passion for what has come to be our favorite cuisine.

And it isn’t even close. Ave, Tony!

Bikes galore - While many criticize Chick-fil-a for closing on Sundays, there are those on the UES who welcome the day of rest from the popular chain’s slew of delivery bikes that fill the sidewalk outside their 86th and Third location despite their very own sign warning, on a double-sided sign standing on the sidewalk in front of the busy take-out/eat-in, that says in words and emoji, No Bikes on the Sidewalk. Keeping in mind that this is NY and that there are at least two sides to every story, some say it means no riding bikes on the sidewalk.

To be clear, Chick-fil-a, no bikes on the sidewalk means no bikes on the sidewalk – bikes can’t be parked on the sidewalk and you can’t ride a bike on the sidewalk. Period. Pedestrians and those waiting for their Chick-pickup orders need the sidewalk space.