There are nearly 24,000 restaurants in New York City, but only a few are considered institutions—those rare, magical establishments famed for their loyal followings and splashy reputations. "Institutions" tend to have a certain je ne sais quois. Maybe it's the larger-than-life owner; the quirky décor choices; the celebrity clientele. Michael Sparaga’s newest documentary, The Missing Ingredient, which hits Netflix today, follows Manhattan restaurateur Charles Devigne in his quest to achieve that esteemed status.
The film starts with Devigne making a controversial decision aimed at leap-frogging his way to prominence: He decorates his restaurant, Pescatore, with the zebra-print wallpaper made famous by Gino’s, a beloved NYC restaurant that shuttered in 2010. Sparaga interviews Devigne about his decision, and he also talks to former Gino’s patrons about their favorite red-sauce joint. The Missing Ingredient investigates why places like Gino’s become institutions while others, like Pescatore, seem to miss the mark. We spoke with Sparaga about what it takes to create an iconic restaurant, and why it never hurts to have famous regulars.
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Did your background in food spark your interest in creating a film about NYC institutions?