It’s dinnertime at Carmine’s in Bellevue as Carmine himself works the floor in his usual impeccable suit. He darts between linen-draped tables, slides into conversation with longtime diners, then dashes out again to lift a coat from the shoulders of an incoming guest. He inspects plates, pours wine—it’s another Friday in the long tradition of running a destination restaurant.
This is not, however, the Carmine for which the restaurant is named—the venerable Carmine Smeraldo behind Italian mainstay Il Terrazzo Carmine—but 25-year-old Carmine Jr. He and younger brother, Philip, now run the business.
The brothers worked at Il Terrazzo since they were kids, then studied economics and business—it was never assumed they’d follow in the footsteps of their father, who opened the restaurant in 1984. But when a stroke took the elder Smeraldo without warning in 2012, his sons found themselves joining their mother to keep the doors open.
Carmine Smeraldo was famously charismatic and uncompromising—a man who could charm an entire dining floor with ease then turn around and unceremoniously fire an employee over a smudged wine glass. For Carmine the younger, commanding that same sort of gravitas proved challenging at first, since “a lot of the staff has known me since I was in diapers.” Philip, now 23, had to forge an identity as a restaurant owner before he was even old enough to drink.
It turns out, Carmine Jr. excels as glad-hander and problem solver, while Philip is an able back-of-house leader. Just a year after the brothers inherited the family business, The Seattle Times awarded Il Terrazzo Carmine a laudatory three and a half stars. Their father’s monument intact, Philip and Carmine Jr. have since opened an adjacent bar, Intermezzo Carmine, and a second restaurant in Bellevue—each new venture, each new dish, a step toward building a legacy of their own.