About Tony May

As one of the nation’s most respected restaurateurs, Tony May has worked diligently for five decades to elevate the image of Italian cuisine in America.  Arriving in America from Naples, Italy, in 1963, he found a cuisine he did not recognize and sometimes a language he did not understand. The Italian cuisine was still known as “Eyetalian” – and was considered the ultimate comfort food “good, plentiful and cheap …” 


For years, first as General Manager and then Owner/Operator, Tony May operated New York’s Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center (1968-1987). This was the era of music, dancing, premier parties (Funny Girl, Fiddler on the Roof, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton, Luciano Pavarotti, just to name a few)…the Rainbow Room was THE focal point of the New York social scene.


In 1979, while still at the Rainbow Room, he founded Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani (GRI). Through the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce, they created a branch for Italian restaurants in the U.S. who were already members of the Chamber. Tony May was always vocal to his colleagues regarding the quality and authenticity of the cuisine in their Italian restaurants. Working with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, GRI established the GRI/Giacomo Bologna Scholarship for U.S. students.


In 1986, Tony May opened his first Italian restaurant, Palio, which attracted critical acclaim throughout the world. Two years later, he opened San Domenico, NY, his flagship restaurant that garnered international praise for 20 years. Through the years, Tony has developed his very own Italian style in the management of restaurants – a style that, since, dozens of colleagues have used as a point of reference.


In 1997, Tony May opened Gemelli in the World Trade Center followed by PastaBreak in 1998.  On September 11, 2001, both Gemelli and Pasta Break were destroyed in the attack on the World Trade Center. Tony May and daughter Marisa worked tirelessly to help feed the rescue workers, as well as to help his displaced employees. A new PastaBreak opened a year later in the E-Walk complex in Times Square. 


In 2008, San Domenico NY closed on Central Park South, and in 2009, Tony May with his daughter Marisa, opened SD26 Restaurant & Wine Bar on Madison Square Park North showcasing contemporary Italian cuisine and the next generation in fine dining.


He is also the author of Italian Cuisine: Basic Cooking Techniques, a textbook distributed to culinary schools throughout the U.S. and available to the general public.

Mr. May now dedicates his time to Italian culinary education to promote a better understanding of Italian cuisine and Italian products for the next generation of cooking professionals through the Italian Culinary Foundation (ICF). He is the founder of the May-Mei Italian Culinary Academy, which launched in 2018.