For many chefs and restaurateurs, achieving success in New York City is the pinnacle.
“It’s a really special place to be a chef,” Food Network personality, restaurateur and cookbook author Scott Conant says. “It’s a great place to have success. It is a miserable place to fail.”
Conant has done both. He has been involved in many restaurants throughout his career, including, perhaps most notably, Scarpetta, which opened in the city in 2008 and has garnered much acclaim since, though Conant is no longer involved with Scarpetta and hasn’t been for over seven years at this point. In 2018, Conant shuttered his restaurant Fusco after just over a year in business.
“It got to the point where it was so much stress to live [in New York City],” the celebrity chef tells Worth. “It was relentless. And I needed a break. Honestly, I feel like I was unhealthy. I was working too much. And I was making bad business decisions because of all those things. So, I really just kind of took a step back and said, ‘I’m going to move to a place where I feel like I’m on vacation when I go there, when I’m going home.’”
And so, Conant, who prior to this moment had never thought he’d leave New York, moved to Scottsdale, Ariz. He considered other options, but Scottsdale was the one that ultimately made the most sense for him and his family, as they already had good friends who lived there.
If Scottsdale seems like an unusual choice for a restaurateur, it’s not. Celebrity chef Beau MacMillan is the executive chef of Elements restaurant at the Sanctuary at Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa, and Food Network chef Giada De Laurentiis is slated to open two restaurants in the Caesars Republic Scottsdale hotel.
Conant rebukes the notion that New York City is the end-all, be-all place to achieve culinary greatness. “I feel like this idea that we convince ourselves that New York is the only place is wildly short-sighted,” he says. Conant worked as a chef in New York City for almost 30 years but was surprised to learn about local restaurateurs like Sam Fox, notable for selling his company Fox Restaurant Concepts to Cheesecake Factory in 2019 for $353 million, for the first time after he moved to Scottsdale. “I think we tend to be in a bubble in New York City, and we don’t realize that there’s a lot of other places that you can spread your wings and be yourself, and it’ll all work out great.”
Conant also says that Scottsdale is a business-friendly environment, noting that in New York City, the taxes became a real weight on him professionally. “I had to close a company because of the tax burden on that company. At one point in New York City, I had an office space I paid about $5,000 a year in taxes to. And then over time, with De Blasio as mayor, it became $100,000 in taxes a year. And that is a significant amount of money increase. And frankly, I resent that,” he says laughing. “As you can imagine. So, I closed that company.”
New York City rent is notoriously high for both apartment renters and those who rent office space in the city, though prices dipped during the pandemic. According to an article by The City, New York City makes $60 billion in tax revenue, with 10 percent coming from office spaces.
Since moving to Arizona, Conant has opened two restaurants: The Americano in Scottsdale and Mora Italian in Phoenix. He’s also getting ready to release a cookbook he worked on last year during the height of the pandemic called Peace, Love and Pasta: Simple and Elegant Recipes From a Chef’s Home Kitchen. He says he doesn’t see himself moving back to New York, but that he still enjoys the energy of the city.
“I don’t see myself moving back to New York City,” he says. “It doesn’t mean that I won’t spend time there; I mean, I had an apartment there for a very long time. Maybe I’ll get another apartment there again. I love New York as I said, this isn’t a dig, but it’s about personal choices and really about the life that you want to lead.”