Carmine Iavarone is part of three generations of family who own several iconic, longtime restaurants in Tampa. He opened Iavarone’s Italian Steakhouse 30 years ago in Carrollwood.
My father came from Naples, Italy. My mother is from New York. Her family is Sicilian. They were great, hardworking people and they inspired me. I was born in Tampa and went to Hillsborough High School. I had a good childhood. I was raised in their Buffalo Avenue grocery store and restaurant. I washed dishes and made pizzas as a kid when we got busy. My grandparents on my mother’s side lived with us and we were a close-knit family. My father was a good baker and cook. He died when I was 12, so my mother raised me, my sister, Theresa; my identical twin brother, Malio; and our older brother, Gene. My mother continued running the business with our help.
When I grew up, I wanted to be in the restaurant business. I watched the warm, friendly way my parents and grandparents ran the store and restaurant, the respect, joy of helping and fellowship for one another. I knew I wanted to be a part of this.
I have a great wife. I married my high school sweetheart 58 years ago and she has contributed greatly to the wonderful life I enjoy with her and my family.
My proudest personal accomplishment is raising my family and now watching them raise their families. I have two wonderful grandsons from each son. Opening Iavarone’s Steakhouse in 1992 in Carrollwood is my proudest business accomplishment. My sons, Carmine Jr. and Rico, along with myself, operate and manage it today. It’s a wonderful way of life. We have built a nice reputation for great service and great food at a great price. We are well known for our daily hand-cut steaks, pasta and fresh fish. I am proud to continue serving third-generation family recipes that have been around our whole life, like the crab enchilau. We enjoy serving our customers, including celebrities who call Tampa their home, such as Lou Piniella, Tino Martinez and Parnell Dickinson. My business philosophy is to treat everyone as you would want to be treated. Iavarone’s and our employees are dedicated to providing the best possible food, service, ambience and dining experience for our guests. The mutual self-respect, integrity, commitment and accountability that all employees are encouraged to practice is what makes our restaurant the success that it is. The best version of what you can be each day is what we strive for. These are the values upon which I was raised and which I instilled to my sons.
The greatest challenge as a restaurant owner was the Covid-19 pandemic. We operated out of a tent, trimmed fat and got creative and lean with our menu. Now business has come back even stronger than prior to the pandemic. It’s made us run a lot better as a restaurant. We’ve always kept up with the times and adapted to the ups and downs of the restaurant industry.
It’s very rewarding to watch some of our employees come through here. We teach them real life values – money management, teamwork and hospitality – and want them to become successful in whatever life path they choose. We’ve had people who worked for us go on to become teachers, doctors, lawyers, etc. Kevin Cash was a busboy at Iavarone’s and he reached the pinnacle in his chosen profession as coach of the Tampa Bay Rays. Some families have had multiple generations work for us. We’re up to 65 employees and growing.
Before Iavarone’s, I partnered with my brother Malio to open the club at Malio’s in 1979, now in downtown. Malio’s son, Derek, and his wife, Jen, now run Malio’s Prime Steakhouse. My late brother, Gene, and his son, Carmine, opened Carmine’s restaurant in 1981 in Ybor City. Outside of the restaurant business, I did a few other things. I worked for Singleton Seafood as the eastern sales manager. Later, I worked with George Steinbrenner, the owner and manager of the New York Yankees. I oversaw his two hotels and did a lot of personal appearances on his behalf. We traveled frequently and I got to meet a lot of interesting people.
My best life advice is to do most things in moderation. Have a good time and enjoy yourself, but don’t overdo it.
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