Taking care of your customers and staff is at the core of the business, the Chianti veteran tells Gawain Davies.
In 1985, Frank Favaro quit his job as a cartographer to become a restaurateur. Few would imagine in an often-fickle industry that, after more than 30 years, the restaurant he and his extended family took over would be an Adelaide institution. Chianti, now located on Adelaide’s Hutt Street, continues to evolve and receive critical praise.
“One thing you learn is that you have to put in the hard yards and give it your all. In the 80s, we had the opportunity to buy a restaurant and I felt we could make the business work. My brother-in-law was managing the restaurant we took over and my mother had been working in kitchens since the 60s. I thought it would all line up; that by getting your own business everything would be smooth sailing. There was a lot of naivety. Within six months we were almost broke. Within 12 months we couldn’t pay our bills.
“At that point we made some hard decisions. Some
of the staff had to go and we had to really knuckle down ourselves. We started to live and breathe the restaurant from first thing in the morning until late at night. It was seven days a week, right up to 3 o’clock in the morning. I realised running a restaurant wasn’t just wearing a suit and tie and directing traffic. I tried that; it had been a bit of a disaster.
“The thing that can’t be duplicated is genuine service. Look after your customers. How we entertained at home, that sense of Italian hospitality, that’s the attitude we took to the restaurant. We are going to cook, we are going to serve, we are going to entertain and we are going to look after people just like we did at home.
“I’ve been lucky having my wife, Maria, working with me. She is such a special woman. Maria is very welcoming; she loves to have a conversation and is really interested in the lives of customers. So many times she’ll have a night off and, knowing that old customers are in the restaurant, will come in, say hello and see how they are doing. Maria has become the face of Chianti. I’ve never claimed to have the best food in town but that level of service, that genuine concern, that is something special. That’s the reason why, after 30 years, we are where we are and still winning awards.
“There was a lot of naivety. Within six months we were almost broke. Within 12 months we couldn’t pay our bills.”—Frank Favarro, Chianti.
“I couldn’t understand why people were lining up waiting to get inside, especially after our initial hiccup. Italian food was growing more and more popular and I thought, “what a fantastic little formula, we’ll just keep going with that”. I eventually realised I’d made a mistake. The old saying is: if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. But, in actual fact, standing still doesn’t work; you have to reinvent yourself to a degree. I’ve learnt you have to implement change. The old traditional Italian has changed; things have gotten a little more modern. Italian has taken the next step and, so far, we’ve kept up.
“Many of our staff have been with us for almost 10 years. They’ve absorbed our culture and almost taken it to a new level. We now travel occasionally with full confidence everyone will step up and look after customers when we are away. We look to invest in our staff. If they show an interest we look to help them, because ultimately it helps us.
“When we don’t know enough we ask questions. Toby [head chef Toby Gush] is a wonderful chef who has been with us for over 14 years; he’s now a shareholder in the business and part of the succession planning. Four years ago he said, “I’ve taken this as far as I can go, perhaps I need new menu ideas”. So we brought in a new chef who has a bit of a profile around Adelaide to work with Toby. She’s not Italian and has come in with a different perspective. We try to intertwine her new ideas with classic Italian recipes. It’s a difficult balancing act; we identify what people are after and try to give them that in a way that maintains the old Italian traditions.”