Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Factory Place Hospitality Group Partner and CEO Matteo Ferdinandi. Ferdinandi brings a wealth of fine-dining experience and genuine hospitality to each of his restaurants. A true Italian restaurateur, Ferdinandi is on a mission to bring to the table the history and culture of the Italian people through local Italian specialties in an era when competitors favor interpretations of true Italian dishes.
Ferdinandi’s introduction to the hospitality industry came at an early age helping at his family’s bakery and hotel in his native Chioggia, Italy, a fishing town south of Venice near the Po River Valley. Despite his love of both food and hospitality, Ferdinandi initially pursued a career in civil engineering, studying in Italy and spending summers in Great Britain to improve his English.
Eager to earn a little spending money while in Great Britain, Ferdinandi took a job in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant in London, igniting a passion for cuisine that led to the end of his nascent engineering career.
Pursuing his lifelong dream of moving to the U.S., Ferdinandi arrived in Los Angeles in 1992. There he met his future wife, Francine — now an accomplished sommelier and partner in Factory Place Hospitality Group. With a desire to be a part of the gastronomic capital of the United States, and inspired by the likes of Danny Meyer, Tom Colicchio and Lidia Bastianich, Ferdinandi and Francine moved to New York City to immersed themselves in the culinary landscape.
Following his time on the East Coast, Ferdinandi joined Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group to open and manage the groundbreaking Spago Las Vegas before returning to Los Angeles to oversee CUT in nearby Beverly Hills as its opening general manager.
With Ferdinandi’s relocation back to Los Angeles, he reconnected with Chef Angelo Auriana, known for his work at Piero Selvaggio’s acclaimed Valentino. Together with Auriana, the pair joined with Francine Diamond-Ferdinandi to establish Factory Place Hospitality Group. With the mission of educating Angelenos on the true spirit of Northern Italian cuisine, Factory Kitchen opened in the Arts District in 2013 to wide praise.
Following the success of Factory Kitchen, the team opened Los Angeles’ BRERA Ristorante, the premiere destination for regional cucina povera (peasant cooking) in 2016. With the success of both concepts, FPHG brought Factory Kitchen to the Las Vegas Strip, opening the brand’s second location inside of The Venetian Resort in 2018.
Back in Los Angeles, the trio launched the pizza-forward sixth+mill in August 2018, with a Las Vegas location at Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian Resort following in September 2019.
Ferdinandi asserts that while the service at each of the FPHG restaurants meets fine-dining standards, it focuses on providing a friendly, seamless and unobtrusive experience. “It all comes down to making people comfortable in terms of food, environment, pricing and a menu they can relate to,” he says. Speaking to his core hospitality philosophy, Ferdinandi explains, “We never say ‘no’ to the customer, and we accommodate the needs of every guest. We make things happen without guests ever noticing or feeling it.”
In 2019. Ferdinandi’s Factory Kitchen & sixth+mill in Los Angeles were named Bib Gourmand establishments, while Brera Ristorante received an Award of Distinction for the inaugural MICHELIN Guide California.
Thank you so much for doing this with us!
Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restauranteur?
I grew up in a family that owned a bakery and a hotel in Chioggia-Venezia, I was always exposed to food and people since my early days. Although I was pursuing a career in civil engineering, in the summer of 1986 I went to London to learn English and started to work in a restaurant in Mayfair to earn pocket money. I was immediately enchanted by the complexity of the restaurant business and how many tasks had to be mastered: from the culinary to the beverage, from the business to PR, etc… it never ends and that is what makes it very exciting.
Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?
Although I started at the garde manger station, I quickly moved to the front of the house where I started again from the bottom up. Although I am an intrinsic part when we develop a new concept, my partner Chef Angelo Auriana is the culinary mind behind our menus.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a restauranteur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
Since we began opening restaurants, I learned is that you have to be yourself, create positive-energy environments and eliminate under-performers quickly as to not unbalance the effort put out by the majority of the team.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?
The hardest time in a restaurant is when times are slower than usual, and you start questioning many things and wondering what is really happening out there. I always stood strong and very focused, believed in our product and showed a smile to the guests.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
Food conjures up memories of family and travel, being Italians, our goal is to represent the history of the Italian people through our recipes. Our food is always respectful of the past with a clear understanding of the moment in which we live and the different current trends. Guests are crazy about simplicity and classics delivered in a knowledgeable and approachable way.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
At times, my perfect meal is about the dishes that my mom and aunt made at home and the unique seafood coming from the Venetian lagoon. It’s always a travel through time that transports me back to my youth and joyful memories, and other times, I love to experience different cuisines.
Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?
It comes from the hard work of the Italian artisans through the times, they provided us with an enormous variety of ingredients that became what Italian cuisine is all about. It seems like in America most people have a certain expectation of what Italian food should be in their eyes –while in reality, in Italy you go from town to town and find very different local dishes that are unknown to the majority of people that don’t come from there. Italian food is never ending and that is what makes it exciting.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
I am always looking for opportunities to carefully expand the company. At this point, I am focusing on more business-friendly states where the dynamics are conducive to create a balance in which everyone involved can prosper. I think that this is an opportunity to bring our concepts to parts of the country that have not been exposed to the Italian culture through food yet are hungry for it.
What advice would you give to other restauranteurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
The industry is consistently changing and evolving. You need to reinvent yourself and you need to keep growing or otherwise contract. Today, you really need to operate in different markets and create a varied portfolio less dependent to a single market. Trends change fast, change is dictated not only by people’s habits and lifestyle, but other dynamics that are affecting the industry that are beyond our control. So, we must rearrange current concepts consistently to keep thriving and create new ones that are proper to certain markets and demand. An operator should make sure that they are surrounded by capable people and re-imaging his/her role as needed, a balanced life is important to fuel the energy necessary to be abreast in business.
Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restauranteur” and why?
- Location is important, but is not the only driving force behind success is it implies unaffordable rents based on a promise of volume. If you build a good business, they will come.
Someone once told me that his was a great location because the hop-on bus stops are close or because there is a big building being developed that will bring a lot of business — there’s more to this business than that.
- Don’t say NO, but always try to accommodate guests’ requests.
I worked with a pastry chef who would throw a fit every time guests would bring their favorite cake from their favorite bakery and forbid them to enjoy it; although the thinking behind it somewhat made sense, the guests always became upset and never returned.
- Don’t stand against change, just embrace it.
Everything is trendy and people behave around trends, if you diminish it, they will go someplace else.
- Stay firm and believe in your product.
Although you need to re-imagine the dining experience. there are always a few staples on the menu that are the reason you became successful to begin with. I’ve seen places throw away their identity to allure a “younger crowd,” but that caused old timers and core guests to drift away for good.
- It takes time to build.
Business doesn’t materialize immediately; analyze the markets you are pursuing and do your homework. Even then, there is always the element of surprise and it takes time to come across, BE CONSISTENT.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit one of your restaurants?
This one is really tough to answer. Angelo is a master of Italian Cuisine and his food is representative of different local realities reflecting the Italian culture. I would say let yourself go and order what you feel like eating at that very moment. I have a sweet tooth, so I would say to end with cannoli at either Matteo’s in Vegas or The Factory Kitchen in LA. It really is a small step toward the nirvana of senses.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Treat your neighbor as you want to be treated yourself. Didn’t someone else try to teach this in the past?