As we recently noted, 2009 was a lousy year for Del Frisco’s, the mammoth steakhouse at 15th and Chestnut. Union woes. Lawsuits. Bus crashes. (Really) bad reviews. And, of course, the Dumpster wars. But 2010 sees a new GM and, just maybe, a glimmer of hope for the restaurant. After a surprisingly good dinner at Del Frisco’s, I gave Rich Furino a call to see how he was going to play the hand he’s been dealt.
What’s your industry background?
I grew up in Hoboken. My parents owned a little Northern Italian restaurant there, and my dad operated a very busy hot dog cart two blocks from the Holland tunnel. And today, 50 years later, my brother owns it. It’s a landmark. I grew up in the industry and I don’t know much else.
And how long have you been with Del Frisco’s?
I’ve been working on the Sullivan’s side since 1998. At Sullivan’s King of Prussia – our most lucrative location – I was one of the original servers, then shift leader, then I worked in the wine program. Eventually, I wound up as the main broiler chef for two years. I did it all. And then I went on the road and started opening Sullivan’s around the country before heading back to KOP.
By any account, the restaurant has a troublesome start, from the lawsuits to, most recently, the bus crash, and …
[Laughs] Yes, the bus crash. The bus hit the corner of the building. If you walk by there, all you will see is a scuff mark. It came across like a huge accident. I was getting calls left and right that the door was demolished, smashed in. It was. But it wasn’t Del Frisco’s door. It was the bus’s.
Fair enough, but still a troublesome year. How do you recover?
We repair the relationship with the city. The union people. That’s all behind us. We took the high road and paid twice for some of the work that was done, but right now, it’s all done. It’s a fresh start. It was a tough road for Shang [Skipper, former GM]. He had a lot to fix.
You must feel like LaBan and some of the other reviewers are out to get you.
It’s hard to say, hard to know what’s going through their minds. We’re not perfect, but we’re getting better every day.
Do you find any legitimacy in the negative reviews?
Sure. And there are things we improved on. I think he said something about the onion rings. We’ve changed them.
What are the biggest changes you’ve made thus far?
We’re making it more value-oriented, more approachable to the average guy. $35 prime rib on Sunday – actual prime meat, not just something called “prime rib.” And Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday we’re doing a $5 bar menu — that’s one third of the price. Just to build energy and get the momentum rolling at the beautiful bar.
You’re really talking mostly about lowering the prices. But what about the complaints over the quality of the food?
I’m really happy with my culinary team here, and they’ve stepped up their game tremendously. And when a guest has a suggestion or a critique, we take it to heart. Like your issues [Rich is referring to my main complaints about a recent dinner there – which, for the record, was by far the best meal I’ve had at Del Frisco’s. The only oyster available: Bluepoints. The only vermouth: Cinzano], now every night we will have at least one West Coast and one East Coast oyster on the menu. And we’re looking into getting some other vermouths in the house, though we’ve never really had a request for that. But if there’s one request out there, I want to address it.
What have you done about the trash situation?
We have four Dumpsters on Sansom Street. There are nine out there. I made a commitment to building management that I will have a team at 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. every day to make sure our four are maintained, and I also told him that if there’s trash along other Dumpsters, we’ll take care of that, too. Just because it reflects on us. I’m not about to get in a war over trash. I have bigger fish to fry. When I heard that story, I couldn’t believe it. It’s just silly.
Yeah, that was a crazy situation with Shang.
I mean, please.
In the end, don’t you think that perhaps there are just one (or two) too many steakhouses in the city?
In the white-tablecloth sector, the people who are showing genuine hospitality are making a comeback. Is everyone going to last? I don’t know. But we’re here to stay.
What do you think? Can Furino turn the tide for Del Frisco’s or is he fighting a losing battle? Leave your comments below.