This past Wednesday, the sidewalk dining scene at Emilio’s Ballato was hopping.
The clubby Italian joint, on the northern edge of Soho, is a favorite of celebrities. And all eyes were on one: Emilio Vitolo Jr., scion of the restaurant’s namesake owner.
At the restaurant, as usual, Vitolo was “bopping around and charming everyone,” according to one customer.
“While I was waiting for a table, he was next to me chatting with a group. One girl said she was moving to San Francisco. He said, ‘Why would you do that?’ Then he looked at me, waiting for a laugh,” said a female diner. “It was charming. He made me feel like I was part of the conversation. He’s got that knack that good hosts have.”
Although flirting may be part of the job, Vitolo, who is also a chef and part-time actor, only has eyes for the normally private Holmes, who’s making no attempts to hide their romance.
The pair were first snapped together on Sept. 1 at the Soho restaurant Antique Garage. But that same day, according to an insider, Vitolo sent his then-fiancée, 24-year-old designer Rachel Emmons, a break-up text. The two were together for nearly two years and got engaged in February 2019, later flying to Italy to look at wedding venues.
Just a week before the break-up, Vitolo celebrated his birthday at a party thrown by Emmons at Lower East Side restaurant Balzem. A photo shows him beaming with Emmons by his side, her engagement ring on full display.
“Rachel moved out of their apartment on September 2 with only what she could carry with her,” said the insider. “She left her engagement ring and all her furniture behind. She then saw the photos of Emilio and Katie as she was flying home to Oklahoma.”
It’s all come as a shock, the insider said. “Emilio still hasn’t reached out to Rachel. She’s okay — keeping her head up, trying to handle all of this with grace. She’s working on her business and plans to return to New York soon.” Emmons declined to comment.
Holmes is thought to have first met Vitolo at his family’s restaurant about nine months ago. She helped him get cast opposite her in a short romantic film that was shot in August.
Their romance has been “organic,” according to a source who knows Holmes. “This was not planned … Katie had nothing to do with Rachel and Emilio’s split.”
A friend of Vitolo’s echoed that sentiment: “He did not break up with his fiancée for Katie. They had major issues that were insurmountable. He did break up with her, though, and their friends were shocked.”
For Holmes, the public affair is markedly different from her six-year relationship with Jamie Foxx.
Before they split in May 2019, the two were rarely seen out together, and a pal told The Post that Foxx never wanted them to make a big fuss in public: “I don’t think it was Katie’s decision to keep things low-key. At first she thought it was a good idea to be careful, but after several years, she wanted them to be more open.”
It was Holmes’ first real relationship since her divorce from Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise in 2012 after six years of marriage.
“Jamie did adore her, and she adored him too. He was crazy about her and he would always refer to her as ‘my girl,” said the pal. “They were really cute together. He threw her a secret birthday party one year at Le Bilboquet and she threw him a secret birthday party, too.
“It’s a shame they split.”
In August 2019, multiple sources told Page Six that Foxx had moved his protégé Sela Vave into his California mansion.
“Jamie tried to have it all ways,” said the Holmes source. “Katie didn’t need him, but she wanted him in her life.”
Insiders say Vitolo’s tight relationship with his family is part of the attraction for Holmes, who is very close to her own parents and a doting mom to Suri, her 14-year-old daughter with Cruise.
“Emilio is the quintessential NYC Italian-American guy who loves his family and friends and food,” said his friend. “He’s a romantic.”
Vitolo’s father, Emilio Sr., bought his restaurant in the early ’90s. The entire clan — including mom Lourdes, chef son Anthony and host son Mario — work there.
When Vitolo was growing up, Sunday was the only time his father took a break. “If you’re going to do a restaurant the right way, you always have to be there,” he said in an InStyle interview. “But on Sundays my father was never the cook. My mother, who’s from Peru, would make us dishes like chicken and rice instead.”
The walls of Emilio’s Ballato are decorated with photos of famous fans, including Justin Bieber, Whoopi Goldberg, Rihanna, Bradley Cooper and the Obamas.
And as much as he loves his family, Vitolo, the middle son, also loves glitz.
“He’s friends with Zoe Kravitz, Sophie and Joe Jonas, and [influencer] The Fat Jewish,” said Vitolo’s friend. “He’s a nightlife type of guy, and very dialed into the scene.”
It remains to be seen if his acting career will take off with his new love connection. In 2013, Vitolo appeared as a bachelor on the dating reality series “Sweet Home Alabama,” and his acting credits include episodes of “Inside Amy Schumer,” “Royal Pains” and “HS10: The Bronx.”
But the Holmes source hopes that the romance sticks. “Anyone would be lucky to be with Katie. She deserves love and a decent guy.”
A history of Katie’s exes
The actor dated Holmes from 2013 to 2019 — but insisted they keep it quiet.
The star jumped on Oprah’s couch to convey his love for Holmes.
The two actors were briefly romantically linked in 2005.
Holmes was engaged to the “American Pie” star in 2003. They split in 2005.
The “Dawson’s Creek” co-stars were linked from 1997-’99.
Additional reporting by Kirsten Fleming.