Interview with Restaurateur Aldo Lamberti on Restaurant Success
With his dignified businessman's demeanor, it's difficult to imagine that Aldo Lamberti was once a boy living by the sea in Monte di Procida, a seafaring community at the center of the Gulf of Naples.
It’s also hard to picture him as a teenager, flipping pies in one of his father's pizzerias in Brooklyn. Or as a nightclub operator in Long Island, a cargo ship runner in Naples, or a real estate developer in Italy. Today, Lamberti’s identity is owner of Caffe Aldo Lamberti in Cherry Hill, NJ, Positano Coast in Philadelphia, PA, Tutti Toscani in Cherry Hill, NJ, Forno Pizzeria & Grille in Maple Shade, NJ and partner in 3 other restaurants in the region.
Lamberti's humble beginnings on the Amalfi Coast gave way to a life that, though full of diverse experience, has always been tied to both the sea and the restaurant business. His father, Giuseppe Lamberti, was a professional sailboat racer. Eventually tired of sea life, Giuseppe looked for better opportunities for his family when he immigrated to Brooklyn in 1961 and opened a pizzeria.
Two years later, at the age of 13, Aldo joined his father in America and went to work in the family business. Over the next 11 years, the Lamberti family opened a second pizzeria and two Italian restaurants in Long Island, where Aldo learned all aspects of both front and back-of-the-house operations. Further ventures included another restaurant and a high-end nightclub, featuring notable acts such as Teddy Pendergrass and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.
In 1977, feeling restless, Lamberti returned to his homeland. Over the next decade, his career path took him into the real estate development business. This gave him ample opportunity to travel throughout Italy's varied regions where he was exposed to the world of fine dining.
In 1985, he returned to America and opened the casual Ristorante Lamberti (now known as Lamberti’s Tutti Toscani) in Cherry Hill, followed by Caffe Aldo Lamberti in 1987. At Caffe Aldo Lamberti, Aldo created a fine dining experience mirroring the aesthetic sensibilities he has developed in his 50 years in the restaurant industry and beyond. Caffe Aldo Lamberti is a slice of the Amalfi Coast, recognized throughout the region for its high-quality seafood and refined atmosphere.
Lamberti is involved in the day-to-day operations of his restaurants, accepting fish orders along with his chef, discussing reservations with his general manager and hand-selecting his staff, some of whom have been with him for many years. His philosophy is to choose people he feels are as equally invested and enthusiastic as he is about the guests’ experience at the restaurant. Lamberti then treats his staff like family, ensuring both employee loyalty and customer satisfaction.
Lamberti's busy schedule doesn't allow much time for leisure, but he manages to fit in some golf and soccer. He heads back to Monte di Procida whenever possible to sail and catch octopus and squid the way he did as a young boy. His trips to his homeland keep him refreshed, renewed and reconnected to his roots in Italy.
1. How long have you been in the restaurant business?
2. What does your restaurant do to keep your menu new and exciting?
We have wonderful daily additions to the menu that change according to what is just in fresh for that day. In addition, we also have a seasonal menu that we change to reflect what produce is in season at that time of year. These seasonal dishes are very popular with our guests.
3. We all know service is key. How do you you motivate your staff to keep a constant service ethic?
We share the great guest feedback with our staff that comes from emails, social media, online reviews, comment cards, etc. We also have contests and incentives for our service staff that helps to motive them. We also have pre-shift meetings to pump up the staff for the impending shift.
4. Starting a restaurant can be expensive and takes a ton of resources. What advice can you give with someone who has the restaurant "dream"?
Don’t do it! Well, unless you are ready to work really hard, put in long hours, and assume no reward for a while. And you should also keep in mind, that having enough capital on hand is a big help, because projects usually cost a lot more than you anticipate. Things just come up, no matter how much you plan and budget. You must have patience! Staff training is very important, do not skip out on this. And remember, it’s a work in progress…always. You must constantly strive to stay on top of the mind of your guests. And, no matter what, do not give up hope if things do not go the way you expected.
5. What kind of marketing and advertising initiatives have worked for you? What haven't?
Marketing that has worked for us is certainly social media, direct mail, all of our websites, email marketing, loyalty programs, networking, word of mouth, etc. The most important thing to do from the start of opening is to establish a mailing list (email is fine). This is how you will keep in touch with your guests. We use email marketing frequently. What hasn’t worked for us is just throwing things at the wall, and not sticking with them for long enough to see if the program works. Things like this take time to show results, and you have to be patient.
6. What are some of your biggest failures and what did you learn from them?
There are times that we did not do the right thing the first time because we were rushing to just get the project finished. As a result, mistakes were made, we were not satisfied with the end product, etc. It’s always better to take the time to do it right the first time. In some situations, we have not taken the time to properly train our staff from the get-go, thus resulting in not enough knowledge and procedure put into place. Other times, we may not have had enough team meetings to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Having done that, it would have made everything go a lot smoother.
7. Who do you look for guidance and mentor-ship in the business?
I look to my father for guidance, as he started in the business long before I did. In addition, and most often, I look to my brother-in-law to bounce ideas off of, to seek new ideas, etc. We often travel together as well to learn and research for our next separate projects (he is in Long Island, I am in South Jersey)
8. What are your next moves?
We just opened our first airport venture called Aldo Lamberti Trattoria in the Philadelphia International Airport, Terminal C. We look forward to the growth potential ahead, as we head into the 2nd quarter of being open. We are also working on a new project in Miami, Florida that we hope to complete sometime later in 2014. All the while, we are making sure that our current locations are being taken care of, and are in good order, and progressing forward.
9. If I were an 18 year old kid what advice would you give me on starting a career in the restaurant field?
Start from the bottom up, and learn as much as you can along the way. Be a sponge, learn every facet of the business, and soak it all in! And remember, great customer service is key!
10. What's the hot item selling at your restaurant these days?
We have Florida Stone Crabs flown in for our guests here in NJ & PA that love them. They are in season until about May 15th though, and not back until around October 15th. We also have Whole Fresh Fish that we fillet tableside for our guests seeking the freshest fish around. It’s our specialty!