Johnny Carrabba and his Uncle Damian Mandola share a passion for food and
a family tradition of generous hospitality. Childhoods spent in lively
kitchens gave these two men their knowledge and love of real home-made
Italian food, and of course the original Carrabba family recipes, which
are used to this day in their restaurants.
With ancestors who came to the gulf coast of Texas from Sicily in the late
1890s, Johnny and Damian grew up surrounded by two main influences –
wonderful food and the importance of bringing extended family together.
Old photographs of matriarchs Grace Mandola and her daughter Rose Carrabba
hang on the restaurant walls, alongside pictures of Uncle Manuel making
sausage (the recipe hasn’t changed), and of the boys as children in the
small backyard gardens where the family grew hard-to-find herbs from
cuttings from the “old country”.
Meals were not just a part of life’s routine for Johnny and Damian.
Gathering at the table has always been an occasion to get together and
talk through the events of the day, the week, the season. Food was central
to birth, death and everything in between. Most family conversations began
with “Whadya eat?” So for Johnny and Damian, good cooking also requires a
knowledge and appreciation of people and their needs. Because the right
food for the right occasion can never be taken for granted. No wonder that
these two life-affirming men, who had the good sense and good fortune to
embrace what they know best, have made decades long careers in the
restaurant business. And it’s no wonder their PBS cooking show series
“Cucina” and the companion “Ciao” cookbooks are so well loved.
Damian was the first of the two to venture out on his own. Using the
knowledge he earned from working in restaurants owned by aunts and uncles
in Houston, he opened a small trattoria, Damian’s, while still at college.
Then, after graduating, he opened what would become a Houston fine-dining
favorite, Damian’s Cucina Italiana.
Meanwhile, Johnny had made a name for himself managing his Uncle Tony’s
Blue Oyster Café. Soon it became obvious to Johnny and Damian that what
Houston needed was a place to enjoy really great food in a warm, relaxed
atmosphere. They talked about creating a new restaurant of their own which
would stay true to their shared memories of the kitchens of their
And so Carrabba’s was born in 1986, making full and faithful use of the
family’s hundred-plus years of cooking traditions. One thing led to
another and they soon had a second location that was as popular as the
first. In 1993 a joint venture partnership was formed with Outback
Steakhouse, Inc. Under the partnership ten locations were opened in
Houston and Florida. Then in January 1995, OSI acquired the rights to
develop Carrabba’s nationally.
Today, Johnny and Damian are still busy developing new recipes, visiting
restaurants and sharing their family philosophy of authenticity, passion
and generosity with “Carrabbamicos” (staff) and customers across the
And the fine tastes and traditions of their Italian-American childhoods