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Carmine’s: A Philosophy of Service

The late Carmine Smeraldo’s legacy is alive and thriving in Bellevue through the restaurant owned by his sons, Carmine Jr. (called “C.J.”), 31, and Phillip, 29. The pair took over their father’s business — Il Terrazzo Carmine in Pioneer Square — in 2012 when he died suddenly of a stroke. The brothers have continued the restaurant’s success with the help of their loyal community and started to define a legacy of their own.

The roots of their story are grounded in their father’s. Carmine was born into poverty in Naples, Italy in 1942 as the last of seven kids, in the midst of World War II.

At the tender age of 19, Carmine moved to Canada. He accepted entry-level jobs including janitorial work to make ends meet, and practiced English in night school. When he began working in restaurants in Vancouver, he met Italian-Canadian chef Umberto Menghi. This chance meeting would prove to be life-changing for Carmine.

“Umberto was one of the three premier Italian chefs in the entire country,” says C.J. “Before the internet, you didn't get famous because of news articles, blog posts, and Instagram — you got famous because of cookbooks, television shows, and word of mouth. Umberto was a big deal in Canada, and my dad really looked up to him.”

Carmine worked closely with Umberto and considered him a mentor.  

“Eventually my dad wanted a little piece of the pie. It didn't work out for him with Umberto, but they remained friends over the years,” says C.J.

In 1984, Carmine opened Il Terrazzo Carmine in Seattle. His dedication to excellence in dining drove him to run a successful business alongside his wife and bring their sons to work at the restaurant as teenagers.

When the patriarch of the family passed away, both sons stepped in to help keep the business afloat. Their mother suggested that C.J. take a job at Canlis to learn what he could from new mentors in light of his father’s passing. The owners graciously took him under their wing.

“That place was nothing short of incredible,” he says. “They allowed me to pop around and do different things in the restaurant…I spent a lot of time shadowing the floor manager, which was very helpful.”

He worked at Canlis for nearly a year, soaking in as much knowledge as possible. After that, he and Phillip opened Carmine’s in Bellevue. Now, both of their restaurants are packed with reservations and loyal customers — many of them remembering the service they once received from the late Carmine himself and appreciating what’s been passed to the next generation.

Some of the best advice for running a restaurant, C.J. says, came from his mother.

“Open your eyes. When you walk in the restaurant…Take pride in what you're doing.”

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