Chef Vince pictured above with daughters Gabrielle and Daniella.
Today we’d like to introduce you to Vince Crivello.
Vince, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Our family immigrated to California back in 1975. And, as a young teen-ager, aside from going to school, I was working at a local delicatessen. My other four brothers also worked part-time in restaurants having been raised by our parents who are both great chefs. At a certain point, my mother literally ‘threw up her hands into the air’ and decided that we should have our own business. We were all brought up learning how to navigate in the kitchen and duplicate their authentic Sicilian recipes handed down generation to generation. We kids are thankful for that awareness of the importance of preserving our Italian culture through food. In addition, to the priceless education I received from my parents, I also went to a Westin culinary school for two years, and one year at a culinary school in Cypress. In 1978 we opened up our own restaurant in Orange County and the rest is history. Since our first opening, we have been serving Orange County for nearly 50 years in our various locations.
In the early 1980’s, I frequented Laguna Beach to visit a friend and it reminded me so much of my hometown in Italy. I come from the fishing village of Porticello, in the province of Palermo, Sicily, so I adapted our family’s recipes and cooking style into Ristorante Ruari, opening our doors to Laguna in 1989. We are widely known for our deliciously prepared seafood pasta dishes, and no-nonsense presentation. Our emphasis is on the flavors of the food we serve that incite the kind of satisfaction one gets while coming home for Sunday dinner. Thus, the idea of ‘Italian Soul Food’ became our tagline. We also serve other popular regional dishes that our diverse Southern California following expects and values, and our wonderful Italian and CA wines offer something for everyone’s palate.
We serve locals and tourists, and the consistency in our menu is unwavering. People return after many years asking for their favorite dish and we never disappoint. They usually comment in person or online how “things have not changed a bit.” This is because we value quality ingredients and don’t change our recipes based on market availability or prices. We want our customers to get exactly what they expect each and every time they come in to dine with us.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The biggest struggle when starting up the business in Laguna Beach was regarding the financial commitment. We had to come up with the funds for the down payment on the building. We had recently purchased a new red Ferrari 308. (Our baby), and we were short the funds to make the purchase. The remedy was clear; we had to make it happen as fast as possible. It was a big sacrifice to sell our baby, but boy it was worth it. We were able to buy the building and the business grew year after year. I have no regrets, only fond memories of her speed and beauty. (smiles) Now, cars are not as important to me as much as college tuition (smiles again).
There are always bumps in the road for every restaurateur. The main thing is to keep your eye on your long-term goals, and to let that vision and passion drive your business. There is always a solution to every problem and stay grounded knowing that you will get past whatever comes your way. Your customers know it—when you love what you do. They keep coming back and it feels good.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about RISTORANTE RUMARI – what should we know?
Because we are from Southern Italy we specialize in fresh seafood: Grilled Salmon, Swordfish, and Sea Bass. (Branzino) We also prepare pasta dishes that include clams, and mussels in a very light tomato sauce. Our cuisine is very simple and very light, and we do not prepare anything in advance, less than a day before. Our seafood and produce come in daily to ensure freshness. Our most popular entree is the Black Linguine with Black Squid Ink, Tiger Shrimp and Clams in a tomato sauce, and then baked in the oven for about 15 minutes to allow the flavors to merge for the ultimate taste experience.
Best Selling Appetizer is our Spiedino- Large Tiger Shrimp wrapped in Pancetta. I have to say, we were probably the first to create these delicious skewers on the OC Coast and now many restaurants are preparing them. But, we use pancetta that gives it a distinctive taste, different from regular bacon. We also do an Asparagus version with or without pancetta for the many vegetarians in Laguna Beach.
Our Most Popular Dessert is Semifreddo. It’s white chocolate gelato, espresso and crumbled amaretto cookies, topped with chocolate sauce. We create the dish in front of the guests to create excitement. It always brings smiles and anticipation to the guests.
What sets us apart from other Italian restaurants in the area is our food quality and the total experience our guests receive from a family owned and operated business. There is a difference. We are small enough to listen to everyone and each person on our staff is well-trained to make sure the customer is satisfied with the complete Ristorante Rumari experience from the moment they walk through the door, to their satisfied goodbye as they whisk by the bar and pat me on the back or reach for a hug. We have the right philosophies in place and understand that our guests want to come in and enjoy themselves after a hard day at work, or to celebrate a special occasion. We strive to make that whole experience magical. We are not in the business of turning tables.
We treat everyone with respect and do our best to share our wonderful Italian food and cheerful sentiments that are uplifting to the soul. Some writers in the past have compared us to that neighborhood Italian restaurant you would find in New York City, or Philadelphia where locals come in and share a meal and talk about life and make long-lasting friendships. I think of us as sort of the ‘Piazza’ in Laguna aside from Forest Drive. We are truly a local hub for delicious food and lifelong friendships.
I am most proud of the kinds of bonds this community has made together in our establishment. It’s all about the people. Our customers have been loyal because they have faith in what and how we serve them. The fact that we have followers coming to us for the past 30 years means they have been treated well. We provide dishes that are consistently the same. We have people coming back after 15-20 years who order the same dish and tell us that it tastes just as good as it did twenty years ago. Also, the fact that we have kept the same employees for twenty years in something to be proud of—it’s like a big happy family! As I said earlier, people know when you’re passionate about what you do. They know when you genuinely pour your heart and soul into your business. Just love what you do. The rest comes naturally.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Aside from my parents always being there over the last thirty years, I have to thank my business mentor, the late Aldo Mazza who guided me to purchase this Laguna Beach property and open the restaurant. He was an amazing businessman who taught me how to deal with the customers even though he was not in the restaurant business. He knew how to interact with people; he was a real ‘people person.’ It was through his wisdom and innate business sense that he walked me through the steps to become a chef-proprietor on a larger scale than what our family had ever done before.
My parents were there to tell me what to do to make the food taste better. In my father’s case, he’d drive in daily to prepare the fresh focaccia bread at 8:00AM every morning. We’d have our espresso together and he always kept me grounded. My mother enthusiastically prepared the homemade cannoli that guests raved about, taking some home after dinner for their morning coffee. My parents always had influence on the food and the business. But it was Aldo who was there in 1989 to make sure that I got off on the right foot in my financial dealings. If you are a chef earning to start your own business, do try to connect with other people who have done it, and don’t be afraid to say you do not know or understand the financial aspects. Find a mentor or partner who will help you to realize your dreams of being an entrepreneur. It’s okay to concentrate on what you do best in the kitchen at first, and ‘little by little’ you will learn the ropes on how to run the whole operation. We say in Italian, “Poco a poco.”
Now I am less in the kitchen and have an extraordinary Executive Chef, Jaime Ocampo. I have taught him nearly everything I know. He has been with me about twenty years now and has taken over with total confidence. My two amazing daughters are both law students and although they love to cook, they both wanted to study. I’m all for it. You have to follow your dreams.
- Appetizers range between: $10-$20
- Entrees range between: $17-$35
- Offering an excellent wine menu by the glass or bottle with a friendly bar atmosphere.
- Address: 1826 South Coast Highway, Laguna Beach CA, 92651
- Website: http://rumari.net/
- Phone: 949-494-0400
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ristorante_rumari/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ristoranterumari/
- Twitter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9MMchI78XM
- Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/ristorante-rumari-laguna-beach
- Other: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g32588-d379026-Reviews-Ristorante_Rumari-Laguna_Beach_California.html
All photos by Rachelle Cano of:
On the OC Coast PR, Marketing, & Social Media Management