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JANET ZUCCARINI spent the first two weeks of March in Toronto, overseeing the launch of Gusto 501, her five-level, 9,000 square-foot, all-day Italian extravaganza on a formerly derelict stretch of King Street East.

Then, with that firing smoothly on all cylinders, the hoped-for reservation wait-lists well in play, and the showpiece PARTISANS design for that former auto-body shop talk of the town, she left town—for her other home, in L.A. “I flew back March 13,” Zuccarini recounted, “I landed, went to Felix for dinner—and that was the last time I went out.”

Felix Trattoria was Zuccarini’s first stateside venture, situated on a prime stretch of Abbot Kinney Boulevard, in Venice. Her pasta-centric collaboration with star chef Evan Funk proved a masterstroke: upon opening in 2017 Felix was named Esquire’s Best New Restaurant of the Year, and Eater L.A.’s restaurant of the Year, to boot.  Felix offers al fresco dining and takeout, as does Gusto 501  and Yorkville’s Cafè Nervosa (which started it all back in 1996) and Gusto 101 on Portland, off King Street West and Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen.  Ditto Thai restaurants PAI (Kiin is temporarily closed). Not to mention the four restaurants she had under construction (two apiece in L.A. and Toronto). But Zuccarini is confident that she—and we—will get through all this.  “Now we know what the future is going to look like,” Zuccarini says, relieved at the fading uncertainty. “Gloved waiters. Touchless pay. Menus downloaded to your smartphone. Fifty percent capacity… but you’re in a much stronger position if you have patios.”

Like at Gusto of 501, for example. Which incidentally is a finalist in the field of over 700 nominations for the 2020 Hospitality Design Awards, due to be announced this fall in NYC. The honoured designer, PARTISANS, is already hard at work on some nifty bespoke face masks for the Gusto 501 waitstaff.

In recognition of her indomitable drive, her unusual international success, and the passion she brings to the table—in food, and business, and increasingly to charity, with Gusto Gives Back—American Express salutes Zuccarini with its Business Leadership Award for 2020.
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