The restaurant environment is often described as a family, but, in the case of Valette, it’s particularly true. The establishment is a family business run by brothers and co-owners Dustin Valette and Aaron Garzini. Chef Valette has worked at revered restaurants, including the Michelin-starred Aqua in San Francisco and Bouchon Bistro and Dry Creek Kitchen in California’s wine country, while Garzini, who is the general manager, has experience as a wine director and managing front of the house at restaurants including John Ash & Co., Betelnut in San Francisco, and Rustic in Geyserville. Here they discuss the nuances of their partnership and how communication is the bedrock of their working relationship.
This is your first time working together at a restaurant. What are the advantages to being siblings running a business?
Dustin Valette: We know each other’s strengths. We understand our roles — and there’s crossover. A lot of times, there’s animosity between the front of the house and the back of the house, but at Valette, we’re all here for the same reason. We need everyone to be excited about the food, drinks, and hospitality. We didn’t design the restaurant to be a business but, rather, a canvas for artisans to showcase their craft. It’s not about us but about showcasing their talents.
Aaron Garzini: I focus on the front of the house, but there is a lot of overlap. One of our strengths is thorough communication. Sometimes restaurants can feel like two different departments, but we don’t approach it that way. Dustin runs the most accommodating kitchen, he’s great about giving constructive feedback, and he knows how to pick the right times to share it. It’s great in that aspect. We are always trying to fine tune.
DV: You pick up on the cues with each other. You don’t push on an open wound. Maybe it’s about how to put the forks on the table or the size of the salad — you don’t bring it up in the middle of a busy Friday night service! People often forget they are in the hospitality business. It’s something we don’t forget.
Having known Aaron my entire life, I can pick up on what’s important. It’s about finding common ground. The biggest advantage is that we’re in the hospitality business. We both got in the business to make people happy. We gave up our nights, weekends, and holidays. I have the utmost respect for my brother as a person and as a manager. My brother isn’t going to yell at me — most businesses don’t have that luxury. It’s like a marriage.
AG: Obviously, I knew my brother was going to put out amazing food, but he’s creative in other ways. When people see the environment, they ask, ‘How did you come up with it?’ A lot of the ideas were Dustin’s. We are very hands on owner operators, whether it’s an idea for a drink or new wine service.
How do you deal with conflict?
DV: Anytime you have any relationship there will be differences of opinion. It’s to our advantage to sit down and decide analytically who’s correct. Should we serve a cold soup on the menu in the summer? Yes or no? It fits with the season but not the style of dining. There are some grey areas. We can sit down and see what’s important to each other. If one of us is passionate about something, we go with it. Ultimately, it’s about what’s the best choice for the guest. It’s about being in synch; for me to do it all by myself it would be too much. We are dedicated to each other’s vision.
I was stubborn and hard headed. Working with my brother has helped me see the other side of the coin. I admire him and it’s changed my demeanor. It makes me push myself higher. My job is to live up to his energy. [Read more…]