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Sunday, September 23, 2018

Maintaining A Family Business

As a 7-year-old “foodie” he enjoyed eating oysters, but it wasn’t until Dustin Christofolo began managing the dining room and servers at Quiessence, a restaurant at the Farm at South Mountain, that he fell in love with the family business.


“That’s when I was introduced to the restaurant business—not catering,” said Christofolo, 30, a South Mountain resident and chef and co-owner of the House at Secret Garden restaurant.


“Just seeing that look on people’s faces” when they’re enjoying their meal . . . Christofolo mused on what finally hooked him.


A third generation restaurateur, he is the son if Pat Christofolo, who owns Santa Barbara Catering and who has been instrumental in establishing sister businesses The Farm at South Mountain. Dustin’s grandfather, who owned Italian delis in the Valley that made their own sausages and fresh breads, was an early influence as well.


Today, the Christofolos are the mother-son duo behind what Dustin brands as the farm-to-table “neighborhood restaurant” that opened last October in the historic Spanish mansion along Baseline road.


“I’d never put together a kitchen,” Dustin said of launching the restaurant. “It was a great learning experience for me.”


Thanks to the local and media success of the Cristofolos’ other ventures, the House at Secret Garden was met with signifcant media interest, and hungry diners followed. Dustin, who left the Valley to attend culinary school at Ica Italian Culinary Academy—four months in Manhattan and eight months in Parma, Italy—is extremely appreciative of the early buzz: “We’re so content that we’re getting this much business in our first season,” he said.


Indeed, Dustin is a busy man. Try to leave a message on his cell phone and you’ll likely hear a polite recorded voice asking you to try again later because the mailbox is full. Yes, Dustin admits, he needs to check his messages.


Despite his professional ambition and success, Dustin is personable and youthful. Friends and colleagues say that’s his charm. He is known to be “detail-oriented” and strives to ensure every diner has a good experience.


Part of that attention to detail has been an awareness of media that extends to the Internet—Dustin likes to ensure that online reviews, even the short blurbs written by diners, remain largely positive.


Since he was young, he’s been a wake boarder and still gets out on the water as much as possible—“it’s just something that Arizona has to offer,” he said. Also in his free time he enjoys eating in other restaurants and loves to watch the Food Network. Mario Batali is his favorite celebrity chef. Greg LaPrad, executive chef of Quiessence is among his admired local chefs. And Mexican is his go-to comfort food.


Dustin also says his mother is his mentor, and that she doesn’t slip into “mom mode” when they’re in the restaurant.


“We both had to make a decision that he’s a man,” said his mother Pat. “Once that happened, we didn’t have to worry about the family dynamic.”


As a business paring, Pat and Dustin admire what each other brings to the table: “It’s very exciting for me,” Pat continued. “I had no idea he was going to be a chef.” A “wine person” with a “great palette,” Pat said her son was so good at customer service she assumed he would continue working the front of the house.


“I’m like my mom in so many ways,” confirmed Dustin. “We’re on the same page. This is our family business.”



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