Gene Todaro, the affable Sicilian who made Marcello’s Wine Market Café on Kaliste Saloom Road one of Lafayette’s most popular eateries, is at it again. Todaro is opening the Elephant Room in the old Fazoli’s at Kaliste Saloom and Ambassador Caffery Parkway. The steakhouse concept, which Todaro conceived, plans to serve Argentine, American and Japanese beef, along with a raw bar offering tartare and carpaccio. The Elephant Room hopes to be open by early next year.
In April Todaro and his son, Gene Jr., opened Enoteca Marcello in Baton Rouge, a two-in-one Italian concept much like Marcello’s (properly pronounced Mar-chello’s) on Kaliste Saloom, which launched in November 2007. In Lafayette customers walk in through rows of wine bottles, all of them for sale at retail prices. Tables are situated near the wine racks, and when the restaurant is busy, shopping for the evening’s wine is a great way to wait for a table. Lafayette diners are charged a $10 corkage fee rather than the usual 100-200 percent markup, making drinking a bottle of wine while dining at Marcello’s one of the best bargains in town.
While the concepts are similar, the Baton Rouge restaurant has a significantly bigger bar business.
The concept of a wine market inside of a restaurant, which will also be a feature of the Elephant Room, is based on the elder Todaro's knowledge of how people buy wine. “My idea is to marry the concept of wine and food, making wine more accessible to the dining public. Lots of people are intimidated by waiters and wine lists. Here, they can grab what they like without defending their choice,” he says.
The Todaro family has been operating restaurants in Lafayette since the early 1980s, opening their first location in a strip center south of the Mall of Acadiana.