Foodie Events / Restaurants

Houston Restaurant King’s Second Cookbook Comes From the Heart — Johnny Carrabba Shares Much More Than Just Recipes

37 Years of Feeding H-Town Families

BY // 08.30.23

When restaurateur Johnny Carrabba introduced his first cookbook — With Gratitude, Johnny Carrabba — in 2016, it was, he says, a gift. A gift to all the customers who had contributed to his Houston restaurant’s three decades of success. With the upcoming publication of A Gift From the Heart, Johnny Carrabba, this new cookbook is as exactly as the title implies.

“I think it was hearfelt,” Carrabba tells PaperCity. “It was really, you know, motivated from me being so thankful.”

Thankful that after an amazing 37 years, the two original Carrabba’s continue strong, as do the eight additional restaurants in the Carrabba Family portfolio. And thankful to his loyal employees. Almost half of Carrabba’s staff of 250 strong have been with him for 15 years or more. Twenty five of those have been with him for 30 years or more. Those 25 employees are saluted in the new cookbook that includes 120 recipes.

“That’s unheard of in any business,” Carrabba says. “That’s really unheard of in this transient kind of business. So when you’re loyal to them though, they’re loyal back. And they’re family to me.”

We talked about Carrabba’s new book over coffee in the original Carrabba’s Blue Room, joined by the Houston restaurateur’s  23-year-old son Johnny and award-winning publishing consultant Roni Atnipp. This second self-published coffee table book, ready for purchase in November in time for holiday gifting, is produced by the same team that did With Gratitude. Including Atnipp and photographer Debora Smail.

The preview I saw indicates that this will be just as popular as With Gratitude, Johnny Carrabba, which has been reprinted five times with a total run of 15,000 copies. That book is still in demand, Atnipp says. He adds that the second Carrabba cookbook will be available for pre-sale beginning in September. (Orders can be made here.)

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With beautiful food photography, images of and stories from the long-tenured employees, and the recipes all tested and approved by Atnipp and a group of volunteers, A Gift From the Heart, Johnny Carrabba promises to be just as well received as the first.

Bruschette Con Pesto is among the recipes included in Johnny Carrabba's second cookbook. (Photo by Deborah Smail)
Bruschette Con Pesto is among the recipes included in Johnny Carrabba’s second cookbook. (Photo by Deborah Smail)

Recipes come from not only Carrabba’s but also Mia’s Table and Grace’s. Among them are such tempting recipes as Bruschetta Con Pesto, Mia’s Brisket Cheeseburger, Penne Alla Vodka, Mushroom Ravioli, Graces Cornbread, Chicken Pazza and Banana Pudding, the latter just like Momma used to make.

Yes, the recipe calls for Nabisco Nilla Wafers and one of the cake recipes begins with Duncan mix.

“I get tickled,” Carrabba says. “Because when you look at this book, it uses a lot of ingredients that I was raised on. So I was raised in a neighborhood grocery store, and we sold you know, stuff like this.”

Almost all the recipes are new and different from the previous book with only three repeats. Three that are essential to the Italian kitchen — Basic Egg Pasta, Pomodoro Sauce and Marinara Sauce.

In addition to recipes, Carrabba talks about staying at the top of the game for nearly four decades. He set out to do a book sharing his secrets to success and details of his unique business model of how to run a restaurant. Which means that in addition to recipes, the book is a very good read including the testimonials from those longterm employees.

The book is dedicated to Carrabba’s two children Johnny and 22-year-old Mia. Family is an important element of Carrabba’s story. He assures that this cookbook is not a money making project and that proceeds from the book sales ($55) will be given to ARISE Alliance, which aids individuals with PSTD.

(Note: The Houston family headed by Johnny Carrabba is not associated with the national Carrabba’s chain. In 2021 Bloomin’ Brands bought out the founders of Carrabba’s Italian Grill in an agreement that allowed them to keep the two original Houston restaurants. Today, the Houston family’s restaurants include six Mia’s, Grace’s and the Carrabba’s on Kirby and South Voss.)

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