Courting a Hallmark of Hospitality

Karl Vela |
Culinary Personalities

Del Frisco's is a widely known national steakhouse, anchored in an impressive reputation. How long have you been part of that legacy, and what roles have you played?

About seven years ago, I started as a server in our sister restaurant, Sullivan’s Steakhouse, in King of Prussia. After two months I was an assistant manager and about five years ago I became the maître d' at Del Frisco’s. After that, I moved up to floor manager and am now assistant general manager.

Is there one role or position that stands out as particularly satisfying?

The great thing about it is that even though I’ve had lots of different job titles, they all started with making sincere and long-lasting connections with our guests—and that's exactly what it's still about. The most important part of any job I’ve had with this restaurant is making people say “wow.” When I have a guest come up to me and say they’ve never had such a great experience going out to dinner before, there’s no feeling more satisfying. The connections that I make at Del Frisco’s are worth more than any amount of money.

Give us an example of a time you made a guest say “wow.”

Just the other night, a couple came in. They’d never seen the restaurant before so they asked where they should sit. I immediately took them on a tour of the whole building, gave them the history, put them at a great table on the mezzanine overlooking the main dining room, and I introduced them to their server and the floor manager. By the end of the meal, the gentleman couldn’t thank me enough. He’s coming back this weekend with a bachelor party because he said he wants every one of his friends to have the same experience.

Part of the concept of Del Frisco's is clearly its attention to stellar service. Tell us what makes it so unique.

Well first of all, we treat every single guest like they’re a celebrity. Beyond that, while every table has a server, everyone in every corner of the restaurant —from the servers to the managers—is there to serve you. Every member of our staff really embraces the idea that they are all hosts of the hottest party in the city.

If you were stopping by for a meal, what would you order?

I'd start off with the Calamari and move onto the Bone-In Filet with the Lobster Mac and Cheese. There’s nothing better than that combination.

How does the design of Del Frisco's fit in with the menu and service? Is there an intentional connection there?

The building really is tremendously impressive. The most important thing for us is to keep that going. We want every stage of every meal to offer the same impression—from the food to the drink to the service. While it’s true this building has a lot of character, it would be nothing without the personalities and character of our staff. You can have a great building, but if the people are bland and boring, why go back?

Looking toward the future, how do you think Del Frisco's is going to grow in order to capture the attention of diners across the country?

Well I think we’re already known as a landmark in Philadelphia, which was one of our biggest goals when we opened our doors five years ago. As far as future growth is concerned, we are going to stay on track with what we do now, that is, creating exceptional experiences. Every night I promise myself I’m going to leave work with at least two new friends. If everyone does this, then we'll grow to be a bigger part of the greater Philadelphia community in no time.

Just for the heck of it: What does dinner look like for you when you're off the clock? What do you drink with it?

Well the thing is, I work all the time. When I’m at home, it’s usually just a Lean Pocket—something quick and easy. And Lean Pocket or not, it always pairs well with a nice glass of Silver Oak or Hillside Select wine. [Laughs]