Nello Balan, the pricey pasta king of his famed eponymous Madison Avenue restaurant, passed away at the age of 64 on Tuesday afternoon at the New York-Presbyterian hospital. Balan underwent a successful surgery less than two years ago to remove a brain tumor. However, he was recovering from a recent ski accident that landed him “in and out of the hospital for about a month,” according to his daughter, Lucy.
In recent years, Balan spent his time traveling around the world, including living in Rome for a year with his girlfriend, Princess Rita von Boncompagni Ludovisi. His daughter confirmed that one of his goals was to take back the Upper East Side restaurant he made famous with his fantastically priced pasta dishes and celebrity clientele that included Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sarah Jessica Parker. Power couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z famously celebrated their second wedding anniversary at the eatery in 2010.
In 2015, Balan was forced to part ways with the restaurant after 25 years because of “a marriage that didn’t work” with business partner Thomas Makkos, he claimed at the time. Makkos, who took over the restaurant, told us he and Balan “kept in touch” despite their restaurant divorce.
Lucy wants to keep her dad’s magic alive by aiming to take back the Madison Avenue restaurant. She said, “I will continue his legacy. I will take over the restaurant and make it happen again. I was his number one fan.” Balan’s daughter also revealed that her father’s last words to her were, “‘I love you Lucy. You are the boss. Never forget where you come from.’ He said it all my life, he loves me, my whole family, my sister, my brother, my other sister, my children.”
Balan’s restaurant was known for its celebrity clientele, but it was more than just a place to see and be seen. According to Makkos, Balan was a “magician of service” who could give their A-list clients the “best of service, best of dining, and have them spend tens of thousands of dollars!” “He knew how to create a big buzz. He’d have 100 paparazzi outside of the restaurant at nighttime, and it would be brighter and bigger than daytime with their flash. I’ve never seen that before in my life,” Makkos said.
Balan’s passion for hospitality was evident in his words when he said to socialite Joan Jedell during an interview for her magazine, Hampton Sheet, “Nello, mi casa es tu casa,” when asked what he wanted God to say to him at the pearly gates.
Lucy, who was by her father’s side when he passed away, said that Balan “will continue to be with us and continue to make people happy.” The loss of Balan is a significant one for New York City’s hospitality industry, but his legacy will live on through his daughter, who is determined to keep the magic of her father alive.