Photo by Toshi Tasaki
Usually, when someone says they’re opening a restaurant, you nod encouragingly and utter a silent prayer. But when Mario Fava, the 45-year-old Eastchester resident and owner of Chat 19 American Grill, Chat American Grill, Lusardi’s, and Moscato announces his intent to open a new restaurant, his loyalists jump at the chance to follow him. Roll up to one of Fava’s neighborhood staples and you’re guaranteed to find someone who has worked there 10, 15, even 20 years.
“I have very loyal employees,” Fava says. “I have a few that have been with me since day one.” Tony Cappello, manager of Lusardi’s, has worked for Fava for 22 years. Chat 19 Manager Maurizio Caputi has been with him for a solid 15 years. And Thomas Della Salla, manager of Moscato, counts 14 years. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s unheard of in the restaurant business.
With Fava, the restaurant biz is in his blood, and always has been—even his father worked in food service. “I have worked in every position in the restaurant business,” he says. He started work as a porter at age 14 and has put in time as a dishwasher, a server, and eventually a manager. He opened Lusardi’s, the first of his four restaurants, 17 years ago. That depth of experience allows him to lead in every segment of the operation. Chefs, waiters, and bartenders have all worked for him for years on end.
“In-and-out he knows the business, and it makes him a great motivator,” says Caputi. “He knows how to adapt to each individual. He gets everyone to go into work with the same mentality.”
“The secret to having loyal people is respecting the job, respecting the individual, and appreciating the work they do,” Fava says. He often rewards his employees for high performance. He’s designed an incentive system for waiters, for example. Says Fava, “If someone has X amount of sales, they can order whatever meal they want for the night.”
Fava says that leading by example is what builds respect. “Basically, I’m a waiter with a suit on,” he says. “I’m a leader, yes, but I lead by example. I don’t just order my workers to do stuff. I’ll bus a table; I take orders; I take drink orders. When they see that the owner is getting his hands dirty, they respect you.”