2004 Honoree

Donatella Arpala


Written by Alia Akkam

When a problem with one of the food runners arises, Donatella Arpaia remains calm. She exchanges a few words with one of the kitchen staff, authoritative, yet kind, takes a sip of water, returns to the conversation and apologizes for the “distraction.” Sitting down at davidburke and donatella on E. 61st St., the sexy new restaurant Arpaia opened with celebrated David Burke last December, she points out the paintings of whimsical playing cards on the wall.

Long Island native Donatella soaked up the scene firsthand through her father Lello, who ran two successful restaurants, Lello and Scarlatti. While she was seduced by the inner workings of restaurant life, she also had to keep in mind that her father didn’t want her getting involved in it. The corporate route was encouraged instead, and with fond memories of food, off to law school she went. In 1997, Donatella abandoned the law track and her father’s grand plan to open Bellini.

Donatella has a lot on her plate. She is working on a cookbook, honoring the traditions of her mother’s homeland. Always on the prowl for knowledge, she seasoned her restaurant career with courses at the French Culinary Institute. The luxurious Spiegel catalog soon snatched her up and before she knew it she was on cable TV spewing out style advice. As Spiegel’s resident Entertaining and Style consultant, Arpaia will soon be launching a line of artisanal Italian products through the catalog.

This lipstick-red playground on the East Side received lots of buzz for its celeb sightings and the Burke’s menu, but also for Donatella, whose graceful presence is a constant at the restaurant. The 31-year-old Italian glamour girl scurries from table to table in stylish fishnets and heels, always playing the affable hostess without even trying.

“They match the food,” she says, comparing the eclectic decor with Burke’s offbeat creations. “It’s hip. Gourmet without being stuffy for this traditionalist neighborhood.”

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