Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Dish On Davio's From My Trip To Boston

Last week in Boston I had the pleasure of sitting down with Steve DiFillippo, owner of Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse. Unfamiliar with the description "Northern Italian Steakhouse", DiFillippo explained that in essence he has two restaurant in one, traditional Northern Italian cuisine and a steakhouse. Additionally, Mr. DiFillippo informed me that the name Davio's has little relevance to him, that he in fact purchased the restaurant and has since expanded to it what it is today. The restaurant opened in 1977 on Newbury Street in the now trendy Back Bay district. In 1985, at the ripe old age of 24, DiFillippo purchased the restaurant, keeping the name but revamping the menu and redesigning the two-story eatery. Successful and small for its popularity, Davio's relocated to a larger space a few miles away at 75 Arlington Street in 2002.

In 1988 a second Davio's opened in Boston's Brookline neighborhood: the restaurant operated until 1997 when DiFillippo sold the building. In 1990, DiFillippo was approached by the Sonnabend family, owners of the Sonesta Hotels chain. Fans of Davio's and in need of an eatery for their Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge Massachusetts, they persuaded DiFillippo that their property was the ideal location for expansion of his growing restaurant empire. Davio's at the Royal Sonesta flourished for 16 years, closing at the end of 2005. With the closing of this Davio's, Avila, a modern Mediterranean concept, and the newest for DiFillippo opened in 2006, a block from Davio's on Arlington. In 1999, DiFillippo took the Davio's concept outside of Boston for the first time with the opening of a location in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Returning home, DiFillippo opened an additional location at Patriot Place in Foxborough, Massachusetts, part of a large complex that also houses Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots.

DiFillippo mentioned that both he and David Simon, CEO of Simon Property Group, have children at Boston University and that they had talked about the doing business. About two years ago, DiFillippo was approached by Simon Property Group, as they had openings for possible restaurants at a number of Boston area malls, among them The Mall at Chestnut Hill. Just as things were starting to come together for a space at a Simon mall in Boston, the U.S. economy, consumer spending and the credit markets all seized and the plans were tabled. As the light at the end of the tunnel emerged, so to did a new opportunity, this at Simon's Phipps Plaza in Atlanta. Simon said they had a large space that formerly housed a Niketown and they felt it ideal both in size and demographics for Davio's. DiFillippo flew down and shortly thereafter, was expanding his restaurant empire once again, this time to Atlanta.

Taking about two thirds of the shuttered Niketown, or about 9000 s/f, the restaurant will be similar in size and layout to the Arlington eatery. Large columns and an open dining room with inviting bar will greet patrons of Davio's Atlanta. While retailer VINCE took a portion of the space with mall frontage, Davio's will have one interior entrance on the side of the restaurant and an additional entrance from what will be patio dining. Last week a number of prime upfront spaces were filled in with cement as a new patio and valet drop off take shape. The exterior wall will also be reshaped to feature a number of large windows: Davio's locations are known for their abundance of natural light, something DiFillippo wants to continue.

Construction is in full swing and when I asked about an opening date, DiFillippo told me he is hopeful they will be open by "late August." While the only significant staff hiring has been Claude Guillaume, former maitre d' of the popular but now closed The Dining Room at Ritz-Carlton Buckhead and Seeger's. An Executive Chef is due to be hired in the coming weeks and the rest of the staff will follow. As with his other eateries, DiFillippo will source his beef from Brawley, California-based Brandt Beef. Brandt Beef maintains a "farm-to-fork" philosophy "which involves raising its animals humanely and naturally without hormones or the use of antibiotics." Though other eateries such as Farm Burger in Decatur are sourcing their meats locally, and from sources similar to Brandt Beef, Davio's will be the only Atlanta eatery to sell their meats.

Phipps Plaza has lost a number of casual and fine dining establishments over the years but will finally gain one with the opening of Davio's. Gone are the days of The Peasant Uptown, a once popular eatery from Atlanta restaurant veteran Bob Amick that closed in 2002, if I recall correctly. Above Davio's, on the second floor, Uncle Tai's closed a few years ago and just this Monday The American Cafe closed. When Davio's opens this fall it will join The Grape: Wine Bar & Bistro, The Tavern at Phipps, and Twist as the current sit-down dining options of Phipps Plaza. ToNeTo Atlanta

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good interview.

Jesse said...

The Executive Chef is Bennett Hollberg, formerly of the Atlanta Grill at the Ritz Carlton. Before that, he was the Sous Chef at the Dining Room. Yes! I scooped Eli! haha.