Tony's opens with a bold welcome for those returning to the fine dining mecca after being closed due to coronavirus restrictions. (Photo by Shelby Hodge)
Dominique Sachse & Nick Florescu in Tony's bar with Tino & Lana Rodriguez (Photo by Shelby Hodge)
Tony's entire staff wear masks and gloves throughout dinner service where the iconic Grand Marnier soufflé reins supreme.. (Photo by Shelby Hodge)
Tony's Chef Austin Waiter and Tony's staffers Leila Zermeno and Lauren Britton lend a hand with dinner distributions to families hard hit by the pandemic fallout. (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Constable Alan Rosen, Susan Sarofim and Tony Vallone team up to provide 5,000 meals to families whose children are in schools served by TEACH. (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Assistant Chief Deputy Carl Shaw assists in delivering Tony's meals to TEACH families. (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Wife of billionaire Fayez Sarofim, Susan Sarofim helps hand out meals for families whose children attend schools served by TEACH. (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
We popped into Tony Vallone’s chic restaurant in Greenway Plaza early Saturday evening for a quick chat about his recent efforts to aid in feeding those in need. We had planned to stay no more than 30 minutes. We ended up there for several hours.
It was a big night for Tony’s. Takeout dinners were at an all-time high. Before we made our exit, both the dining room and the bar had filled to a lively, if mandated lower than usual, capacity. With the limited seating, the evening quickly sold out.
While every other table had been removed for proper spacing, the air of high living among the city’s social swells prevailed. Champagne corks popped, and Tony’s iconic Grand Marnier soufflés were served. It was an intoxicating scene of society at play, reminiscent of Saturday nights pre-coronavirus. So tempting was it that we tossed our previous plans to savor the moment.
Waitstaff in elegant suits, accessorized with the mandated masks and gloves, offered the expected flawless service. Even the venerable Vallone and his wife, Donna, wore masks throughout the evening as they made the rounds, welcoming diners, both newcomers and regulars.
Massive golden “Welcome Back” balloons, offering a festive greeting, centered the panoramic window into the kitchen. This was May 16. April marked the restaurant’s 55th anniversary. There was no celebration, only a nod to the commencement of dining.
While the to-go takeout has done exceptionally well, Vallone tells PaperCity, “It’s been very challenging, very difficult for our business. You can’t make it on 25 percent, no matter how well you operate.”
Vallone and restaurateurs across the state are hoping that Governor Greg Abbott’s announcement on Monday will raise maximum occupancy to 50 percent, thereby reducing some of the financial strain.
On this Saturday night, we saw familiar faces in the bar. Dominique Sachse and Nick Florescu joined Tino and Lana Rodriguez in celebrating Lana’s birthday. At a safe distance, Texas Heart Institute president emeritus Dr. James Willerson and noted dermatologist Dr. Adelaide Hebert enjoyed an early dinner at his regular table. Nidhika and Pershant Mehta dined with their two children at another. Piano man Louie Carrington had resumed his place at the keyboard.
In the dining room, regulars Claudia and David Hatcher dined tête-à-tête. Commercial real estate developer David Greenberg, CPA Russ Miller, and their wives held court at Greenberg’s standing table. In a nearby corner, billionaire Ed Bosarge (negating rumors that he was dying from COVID-19) and his stunning girlfriend dined with Chuck Jenness.
A celebration of sorts took place at a jovial table of eight, situated next to the dramatic Jesús Moroles sculpture in the dining room. Desi and Josh Lebar had settled in at a corner table in celebration of his 45th birthday. Tucked into a neighboring — but not too close — romantic table were attorney Ben Rose and his wife, Laura Max Rose.
This was one side of Tony Vallone’s pandemic world. The other was his reaching out to help others. Vallone joined TEACH co-founder Susan Sarofim and Constable Alan Rosen in providing 5,000 meals for families whose children attend schools where TEACH is engaged. It was reminiscent of his largesse during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, when Tony Vallone would regularly serve meals to first responders.
His inspiration for helping others, he says, comes from his “very modest” upbringing. “It was a broken family without many resources,” he explains. Understanding the need of those less fortunate has guided him through his various commitments.
“In these situations, everyone needs to pitch in,” he says. “I think that’s what makes Houston such a great city. We’re very open. We grow together and we pull together when needed.”