"I think for any business, five years is a big deal," Andrea Frizzi, chef-owner of Il Posto, says. "For a restaurant, though, five years is a super big deal."
And that's why today is "a super big deal" for the chef -- on this day in 2007, Frizzi, a native of Italy who came to Denver by way of New York and Washington D.C., opened the doors of his trattoria, giving this city a new neighborhood Italian restaurant, where dishes inked on a chalkboard change daily, the energy of a perpetually packed dining room mixes with the rhythm of the open kitchen and every meal is kicked off with a shot glass full of sweet, fizzy lambrusco, a gift from the chef to thank diners for coming in.
"It was easier at the beginning," Frizzi admits. "Longevity is a big deal. You see great chefs and great restaurants that don't make it." The hardest part, he says, is pushing past the initial buzz that comes with being the newest hot spot in town and building a loyal clientele that keeps coming back.
"If you work very hard the first year, you should work very hard after; never slow down," he advises. "And don't ever forget where you come from."
That lesson was impressed upon him most vividly during the recession, when he learned how to weather blows to the bottom line that were out of his control. "During 2009, when the economy crashed, we saw a substantial decrease in business," he explains. "I had two choices. One was to buy cheap ingredients, cut costs and get rid of people. But I realized if I did that, I'd lose everything. So I made the choice to keep going and trust that it would work out. It's the biggest gamble that I've ever taken, but I knew the rules. I knew if I made the other choice, people would lose respect and move on. Il Posto wouldn't be attractive anymore."
The chef says members of his staff have also been integral in keeping the restaurant running. "I have the best team ever," he insists. "These guys are amazing. Some of them have been here the whole time, and they take care of this restaurant like it's theirs. My mother died in November and I was away for a little bit, and they took care of everything. They're just unbelievable."
Maintaining consistency doesn't mean nothing has changed over the last half-decade, though. As Frizzi has pushed himself as a chef, the food, he says, has gotten more creative, though he's tried to keep a balancing array of traditional Italian dishes on the menu, too. But change goes deeper than the nuts and bolts of operating the trattoria: "I think I've changed more than anything," he reflects. "I'm a chef. I'm Italian. I've got a big ego. But I've grown. I used to be more emotional. Now, if someone criticizes something, I don't take it personally. I look at it and figure out why it happened."
The change in outlook has also made him a better owner and operator, running his restaurant more like a business and less like a mom-and-pop joint. Over the years, he's added lunch and cooking classes and maintained his wine locker program for regulars.
But it's still the familiarity and casual neighborhood vibe that keeps people coming back, and Frizzi has managed to build a clientele of people he truly considers friends. "You have to be very genuine with your customer," he says. "If you like them, you like them, and not just because they bring you money. I'm sincerely grateful for the people who eat here, and people can read that."
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And now that the recession is over, Il Posto is doing better than ever. "For some reason, we just blew up again," says Frizzi. "The restaurant is doing really well again. I can even pay myself!"
Il Posto will be pouring diners a free glass of Prosecco tonight by way of celebration.