By Jennifer Lefferts
The owner of Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse in Boston is cooking up the biggest expansion in his company's history, with plans to nearly double his workforce and his revenue within the next six months. Steve DiFillippo's menu for the year includes the opening of high-end restaurants in New York City and in his hometown of Lynnfield, as well as a more casual restaurant at a new movie theater complex in Chestnut Hill. With the growth, he will go from 460 employees at the start of the year to 800 in the fall. "I don't have to expand, but I love it," said DiFillippo, 52. "This is what I was born to do and this is what I'll continue to do." DiFillippo purchased Davio's on Boston's Newbury Street in 1985 when he was 24 and moved the upscale restaurant to its current Arlington Street location in 2002. Since then, he has opened restaurants in Foxborough, Philadelphia and Atlanta. Davio's Cucina in Chestnut Hill, DiFillippo's take on upscale casual dining, is scheduled to open in National Amusements' new Showcase Super Lux cinema complex off Route 9 on May 29. The other two locations will open in August. Meanwhile, his book. "It's All About the Guest: Exceeding expectations in Business and in Life the Davio's Way,'' is set for an October release from Globe Pequot Press.
DiFillippo. who is working with First Republic Bank to finance the expansion, said the three openings were initially spread out but got bogged down when the economy took a nosedive. Also, four years ago the state banned educational dinners with doctors in the pharmaceutical industry. DiFillippo said his restaurants lost $1 million in sales annually as result of the ban, which was lifted last fall. Now, business is booming and DiFillippo feels well-positioned to keep growing. His restaurant group's revenue was up by at least 10 percent in the past two years. "You can't sit back." DiFillippo said. "You have to go out and attack."
Peter Christie, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said it's a prime time to grow - consumers arc eating out more, interest rates are low and rents arc attractive.
"It's a good opportunity for people who have a good track record to expand," Christie said.
Christie said Difillippo is a mainstay in the industry because he's passionate and knows how to delegate.
DiFillippo attributes his success to his parents, his employees and a little luck.
"I can't do it all." he said. "I reach out to the right people and try to surround myself with the right people."
For the Chestnut Hill venture, DiFillippo is partnering with Shari Redstone, the president of Norwood based National Amusements.
Redstone said some of her other theaters, including the Showcase Cinema de Lux Legacy Place in Dedham, have their own restaurants, but she wanted a well-respected restaurant brand to help drive more traffic to the Chestnut Hill location.
"Every time I open a new theater. I try to make it better than anything else we've done before," Redstone said. ''The first person I thought of was Steve. Not only is Davio's one of my favorite restaurants in Boston but it's one of my favorite restaurants anywhere."
The 250-seat restaurant will focus on entrees that can be prepared quickly for movie-goers like pasta, pizza and DiFillippo's signature spring rolls. Most entrees are under $25. "It will have the same level of service that's expected at Davio's but it will be a more everyday kind of place." DiFillippo said. "We're not going to be the main show.''
While Davio's Cucina will take on a casual feel, the New York location will be upscale, even more so than the Boston location. The Midtown Manhattan restaurant will be more intimate, with 100 seats versus the typical 250 at other Davio's locations. And the menu will include more higher-end ingredients, and will be changed every six weeks. The Lynnfield location, meanwhile, will be similar to the other Davio's locations. Darren Tristano, executive vice preisdent of the Technomic Inc. restaurant consultancy in Chicago, said restaurant operators tend to have the most difficulty expanding from one to two restaurants and from two to five locations because of the Infrastructure needed to accommodate that growth. Given that DiFillippo already has six restaurants - the four Davio's locations, the Davio's To Go next to the flagship restaurant, and Avila nearby in Boston's Theatre District- Tristano said he should be set up well to handle the expansion.
“There's always going to be a danger of growing too quickly,'' Tristano said. "The key will be having the right people in management. What's important is executing at a very high level and continuing to keep the bar raised. If you can do that, you can mitigate the risks of growing too quickly."