Photos by David Le
Steve DiFillippo, Chef and CEO of Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, loves to tell stories.
The first in a guest speaker series, DiFillippo visited campus Thursday to discuss entrepreneurship, hospitality, and philanthropy, and the audience in the packed Linda Cleary Lecture Hall in the newly-named Hempstead Commons got more than they expected during an entertaining hour full of anecdotes and life lessons.
DiFillippo’s themes of helping people, growing a business, and caring for employees came across during a series of stories and pieces of advice. From sitting down with a regular patron who was grieving the loss of his wife to the story of the only employee he ever fired, DiFillippo shared his advice with humor and confidence.
A lifelong entrepreneur who started young with a paper route and landscaping business, DiFillippo purchased his first restaurant at 24, a small location on Newbury Street in Boston that became Davio’s. Success allowed him to expand to a new, larger location, and then to open more locations—now DiFillippo owns restaurants across the country and also operates a branded food line of grocery items.
The secret to DiFillippo’s accomplishments as an entrepreneur boils down to a handful of key tenets. “Be in your business, don’t be in an office,” he advised. Love what you do, work hard, treat your employees well (DiFillippo has the birthdays of every single one of his more than 1,000 employees saved and texts them all personally on their big day), learn from your mistakes, find a mentor, and check your ego at the door.
What’s clear is that he has a passion for hospitality. “I love to serve,” he said. “What restaurants do is important. I guarantee some of the most important days of your life are going to be in a restaurant. I take it very seriously. That’s a quality and I’ll never let that go.”
DiFillippo continued with the ultimate reason for his success. “I don’t consider any of this work because I love what I do. You need to find what you love to do. It doesn’t matter what it is. Don’t look at the money, go find what you love and the money will come…Be nice, be humble and listen, pay attention to what’s going on around you. It’s so important. Get out there and learn and love what you do.”
Later, DiFillippo spoke about the importance of philanthropy, sharing his work with Best Buddies and emphasizing the need to help others. “When you do stuff for others you get so much more from it,” he said. “Whatever you’re doing or what you’re involved in—if you help people, you’re going to help your business. If you help people you can work with me all day long; my life agenda at this point is to help people.”
Sophomore Matt Smith attended the talk looking for some inspiration around securing a winter internship, but left with a new perspective on how work can have a higher purpose. “I’m an accounting major, so I want to work at an accounting firm,” he shared. “[DiFillippo’s] philosophy of helping people and how important that is to his what he does—and how he feels his work hasn’t been work, because he loves what he’s doing—that put a much different perspective in my mind. It makes me want to help people, and not just focus on work.”
DiFillippo closed the event by taking questions and then signing gifted copies of his 2013 book It's All About the Guest: Exceeding Expectations in Business and in Life, the Davio's Way.
“Today’s a good day, I love to do stuff like this,” he enthused. “If I can help someone, sit with someone, give them some advice, that’s what makes me happy.”