Opening new restaurants for Steve DiFillippo is all in a day’s work. He owns Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse with locations in Boston, Foxborough, Chestnut Hill, Lynnfield, Braintree, Manhattan, Philadelphia, King of Prussia and Atlanta. He recently celebrated the new Davio’s in Irvine, California. Known for being highly organized, maintaining a rigorous daily to-do list and being present in his restaurants, DiFillippo is no stranger to juggling many hats and hard work. DiFillippo has said, “After 25 years, I feel that I am just getting started.”
This can-do attitude is part of why this veteran chef and restaurateur felt confident in opening his latest restaurant on the other coast, a move that can strike fear in most operators. After all, it’s literally impossible to be in two places at once. But for DiFillippo, his lifetime of experience in the culinary industry rolled right over to the new West Coast endeavor. DiFillippo approached the new eatery with the same enthusiasm he exhibits for all of his locations.
“I love what I’m doing and really love coming to work every day,” he said. “It’s not like we have a master plan to open 30 or 40 Davio’s, but we are definitely in a growth period and as long as we can do it well and open restaurants while keeping the standard of what a Davio’s is, we’ll keep going.”
The importance of location when it comes to opening new Davio’s restaurants cannot be understated, but while DiFillippo believes in the old adage of ‘location, location, location’, part of his recipe for success is not going it alone.
“What we have learned is that we don’t want to be by ourselves, rather we like to be in areas where there are other restaurants because collectively they create energy and excitement for the community,” said DiFillippo, who says research is paramount to picking the right place. “Make sure you do your homework, including knowing the rules, laws and taxes, since it’s a big country and things can change as you travel across it.”
Boston’s iconic Back Bay neighborhood and California’s acclaimed academia tech hub of Irvine could not be more different, Boston being a walking city flanked by clusters of buildings and Irvine a driving one, spread out over miles. Rather than attempting to apply what worked back east to how he tackles the west, DiFillippo relied upon a proven common trait.
“People in Irvine want what the people in Boston want, excellent food served with exceptional service, to feel valued and they want value,” said DiFillippo. “People work hard for their money and in all of our locations our guests want to feel like the most important people in the building.”
DiFillippo says he was fortunate to face few challenges in adapting the Davio’s ethos to the California location. In a time when labor is one of the biggest challenges a restaurant owner can face, DiFillippo and his team chose new team members wisely. As a result, waitstaff and management have taken to the Davio’s philosophy.
“I am not sure if they thought I was crazy when I stood before them and told them that the employees were as important as our guests – that our staff members are our ‘inner guests’,” said DiFillippo. “I think there may have been some non-believers, but I stayed with them for every moment of it and by the end of training, I could feel the doubt fade.”
DiFillippo admits to having contingency plans in place for just about everything.
“Davio’s has been around for 33 years so it is always helpful to think back over the years and review how we handled situations, and restaurants and dining rooms in particular are living, breathing things that can change in a moment’s notice,” said DiFillippo. “You prepare to be as organized and stocked as you can be, then hold on for dear life and go where it takes you.”
As an avid runner, DiFillippo uses his favorite fitness pastime to keep all the details in check and organized in his mind. He says in his book, as the official Davio’s ‘noticer in chief’, DiFillippo is very involved, but his chefs and managers in each location make the best decisions they can for guests. One thing he never fails to remember is the importance of consistency.
“Running clears my head—when I am running I am free to work through the problems of the day, but the truth is, life is about consistency, so our style is to bank on our consistent formula,” said DiFillippo. “It is important that people who go to Davio’s get the same feeling – that doesn’t mean the restaurants are exactly the same because the personality of the restaurant must reflect its geography and the people in it.”
DiFillippo maintains a list of recommendations and things one should never do when opening a new restaurant on another coast.
Expansion Do’s & Don’ts:
Do hire a good Lawyer.
Do have enough proper help so that your original location doesn’t slip.
Do make sure that your shiny new place does not empty the old one.
Don’t be fooled by your abilities. Entrepreneurs are serial optimists and if a place has never worked, as great as you may be, that may not work for you.
Don’t bite off something bigger than you can handle. Bigger is better on Saturday night, but what do you do with all of that space on Monday night?
Don’t go in under-capitalized. This is the number one reason for failure. Slow times will come and you need to be prepared for them.
As for what might surprise people to know about this businessman and the Davio’s culture? DiFillippo says the answer is simple.
“We never take ourselves too seriously – it’s hospitality, so it’s supposed to be fun,” he said. “Restaurant staff members can’t go to the table and act happy – they have to be happy.”