Mario Batali details his career from slinging food at the Rutgers dining hall to star chef and restaurateur to television personality and how much money he made at each stop along the way in a new essay.

By Maria Yagoda
Updated July 26, 2017
Mario Batali Predicts a 'Violent Revolution' Could Happen in America Over Food
Credit: Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic

Mario Batali remembers making $70,000 a year at the Santa Barbara Four Seasons, yet having only having ten cents to his name because he blew his paycheck each week. Since then, the chef has learned some valuable financial lessons on the road to building his “$200-million-a-year” culinary empire. In a new Money Diaries essay for Wealthsimple, an automated investment company, Batali details exactly how much money he made at every step of the way.

His freshman year at Rutgers University, for example, he made $6 an hour in the dining hall, and his sophomore year, he worked his way up at a stromboli place called Stuff Yer Face (Warning if you’re at work or the library: The autoplay music on their website is hard to avoid). “I started at $7.50, but pretty quickly I was up to $10, $11, $12 an hour because I was fast, a good motivator, and a team player, and the business was successful,” he says. “I was paying my own rent by junior year. I’d get paid, go to a fancy beer bar, and order a $7 beer. Every now and then I’d take a girl out on a date.”

From there he went out to San Francisco where he was making $70 a shift five or six days a week catering, which eventually led to his first job as a hotel sous chef making $50,000 a year, which he says was, “big time.

After going to Italy and getting just room and board for his job at a trattoria, he ended up back in the U.S. working in New York’s Café Tabac during the early ‘90s for $1200 a week. That also happened to be when he met his wife Susi.

After opening Pò and having a successful first year he started filming Molto Mario for $400 an episode.

Finally, when he turned an early profit at Babbo, Batali’s financial attitude shifted.

“Just like when you buy that first ounce of weed and sell three-quarters of it (or so I’m told), we started to reinvest our capital in new ventures,” he says. “We now have 28 restaurants and a $200 million a year business, so we’re doing alright. Of everything I do—TV, books, product lines — restaurants are by far the most lucrative.”

But despite his financial successes, the chef doesn’t spend a lot of money on himself. (“Clearly my wardrobe costs pennies compared with other people.”) But when he asks his kids, “Who’s the happiest dad you know?” the answer is always him, because he loves what he does.

“I want them to treat education like it’s a trade. You should go to college to learn to be fascinating—and fascinated—which makes you invaluable for every single company,” he says. “If you’re solution-oriented, with a vocabulary, and can speak and behave in a way that makes people feel good, you can work at any multinational, doing something, for a lot of money. My wife has said all along that if our kids become circus performers, she’ll support them until the day they die. No one has yet gone for the circus performer option.”