Running for Restaurants: Ducali Owner Seeking Office
If you think a bustling restaurant kitchen is an intense place to be, try city hall. Between licenses, permits, inspections and other elements of bureacratic hoop-jumping, the process of opening (and keeping open) a restaurant is enough to give any small business owner headaches: or worse, put them off to the prospect altogether. That's a big reason why Ducali owner Philip Frattaroli (seen here, left) has declared his candidacy for an at-large city council seat. Thanks to his dad Filippo, who launched his first North End restaurant as a new immigrant in the late 1970s, the Frattaroli family is now behind a slew of spots: Lucia Ristorante & Bar, Artú Rosticceria & Trattoria, Filippo Ristorante and the upcoming Ward 8 Restaurant & Bar.
Philip says that making life easier for small businesses, especially restaurants that redevelop neighborhoods and offer immigrants valuable work opportunities, is a cornerstone of his campaign. He took five to chat with us about why this issue is so important to him: and if you want to hear it straight from the restaurateur's mouth, swing by Forum on Tuesday, September 10 at 6 PM. That's when he'll host "Foodies for Frattaroli," a forum (get it?) to get to know Frattaroli and mingle with a slew of supportive celeb chefs in attendance: including Lydia Shire (Scampo), Chris Coombs (Deuxave, Boston Chops, dbar), Jose Duarte (Taranta) and Jason Santos (Blue Inc., Abby Lane.)
Zagat: Why did you decide to run now?
Philip Frattaroli: I have a strong perspective on things. I've been through 1010 Mass Ave, the office building where all the city departments are based, countless times. I've been through the gauntlet of people. I have an idea of what the bureacracy is like, and what a small business has to go through in the city.
Z: What are some of the challenges that restaurants specifically face, and what can be done?
PF: Honestly, a lot of it can be solved through organization and technology. To first open we had to deal with about 15 different departments; that is a maze for a business to get through! Restaurants in the city are then regulated by about four or five different departments, and each is on a different schedule. They come and do their inspections, and that's great, but some of them are really far behind. So you get to the end of the year and you need all these certificates of approval and renewed licenses. And if you don't get the inspections done, you don't have the documents. I think it's a question of reorganizing and bringing some common sense to the system. I mean, if you look at all the licenses that we have hanging up from different departments, there are several different names and variations of spellings for the business! That's just an issue of bad technology. There's really no reason in this day and age that departments shouldn't be talking to each other.
Z: Your father started the family restaurants as a new immigrant. Has that informed your perspective?
PF: Absolutely. My dad opened his restaurants in 1977 as a new American, and when we celebrated the 35th anniversary we had a little party. All these people came back who used to work there: and whether they be the chef or the dishwasher, many of them have gone on to open up their own restaurants, including myself. It really struck me how important just one business can be when it comes to running other businesses. They're like families. You have all these families that sprung up out of one business, 30 more trees that each have their own branches. The restaurant industry has traditionally been a place where immigrants can make a living for themselves, set up a life in this country. And I think it's important to maintain that. I don't see how my dad, if he came here now, would have the same opportunities to open a business. It's so costly, so time consuming. It can take six to nine months to get through all the approvals, and that costs time and money: in lawyers, and in rents you're paying for a business that isn't even open. I went to law school and it was difficult enough as a lawyer to get through it all. I don't know how a new American can.
Z: How do restaurants affect communities?
PF: When my dad opened the restaurant this neighborhood wasn't what it is now. The industry really helped turn it around, and you see that going on in other places too: the South End wasn't always a great neighborhood, but with the help of the restaurant industry it's something new. Jamaica Plain is a cool, hip neighborhood right now and that has a lot to do with the restaurant industry. I really believe restaurants have effects in neighborhoods down the line: everything from public safety, just putting more eyes and feet on the ground, to the financial future of a neighborhood.
Z: We're in the midst of a mayoral race. What would you like to see of the new mayor?
PF: I'd like to see the new mayor taking a more aggressive stance on transparency. Right now when liquor licenses become available no one really knows about it. We need public listings of what becomes available, and that would help secure them going into neighborhoods that really need them. Transparency is really important.