Sometimes Tony Daddabbo thinks of himself as The Dude, Jeff Bridges' character in the movie “The Big Lebowski.” It’s a far cry from his role as a restaurant consultant for some of New York City’s high-end hotspots, as well as some popular places in his hometown of Auburn. But Daddabbo's philosophy on life mirrors The Dude's: “Fall back. The universe will catch you.”
The universe has caught Daddabbo plenty of times. Each time has led him back to the restaurant business.
“I get to do not only what I love, but what I’m really best at,” Daddabbo said. “I’ve been blessed with that.”
The term “restaurant consultant" may not be a familiar one. It’s a nebulous term that can change and morph with whatever task may be at hand. Daddabbo said he takes on several roles: teacher, trainer, leader, systems analyst, drill sergeant.
“I do anything that needs to get the job done, to get the restaurant rolling and successful,” Daddabbo said.
Some of the restaurants Daddabbo has helped in New York City are the Arlington Club, the Tao Restaurant and Beauty and Essex. He helped launch the Tao Restaurant in Las Vegas, too. In Auburn, Daddabbo has helped out his brother Jim’s restaurant, Mesa Grande Taqueria on East Genesee Street, as well as the Oak & Vine restaurant at the Springside Inn.
All have been success stories, and all have a special place in Daddabbo’s heart — especially because restaurant consulting was never Daddabbo’s plan in the first place.
Daddabbo went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass., where he earned a degree in music production and engineering. He worked at Cherrystones as a food runner, making some money on the side. Little did he know this job would lead him to the career he has now.
“I was 19 or 20. I wasn’t going to admit how natural I was at the business. The more I learned, the more that I loved it, but I was conflicted,” he said.
After he graduated, Daddabbo moved to New York City and got his foot in the door at a few restaurants.
Daddabbo left the world of food, celebrities and serving for a job in the music business. He thought he was finally going to start his career, use his degree and stop waiting on tables. His job as a concert promoter for Ron Delsener did not make him enough money to continue living in New York City, however.
“So I sort of begrudgingly went back to the restaurant business,” he said.
As Daddabbo moved up, he began to make connections with general managers and owners. He met celebrities like Bruce Willis, Cindy Crawford, Alec Baldwin and Itzhak Perlman. He began to carry a reputation for his attention to detail and his thoroughness.
One of the more prestigious restaurants Daddabbo worked for was the Tao Restaurant chain. Paul Goldstein, one of the partners for the Tao/Lavo Italian Restaurant and Nightclub in New York, asked Daddabbo to become a service director for the restaurant. Since then, Daddabbo has worked with Goldstein on numerous other restaurant endeavors.
But Daddabbo has worked close to home, too. In the summer of 2010, Sean Lattimore, innkeeper of the Springside Inn in Fleming, contacted Daddabbo and asked for his help. The two had been friends since sixth grade. The restaurant associated with the inn, the Surrey Room, was not doing well, and Daddabbo knew a paint job was not going to cut it.
“I said, ‘You need to close it all down, gut it, renovate it, brand new concept, new chef, new name. It has to be completely changed,’” Daddabbo said.
Lattimore appreciated the honesty. He knew the restaurant needed a big change. And Daddabbo made a big change. It was the first time he had ever thought of himself as a restaurant consultant. It was the first time he put a title to the work he had been doing all along.
Today, Lattimore said business at the Oak & Vine has been great.
“It was a terrific move for us. Tony is just a tremendous resource for us with his position and knowledge. It’s like asking Michael Jordan to help you throw free throws or something. It just been a lot of fun. It’s great having someone at our fingertips at the top of his game,” Lattimore said.
For Daddabbo, working on the Oak & Vine allowed him to give back to the place he grew up, and give the community some New York City flair.
“It’s hometown,” Daddabbo said. “It’s going back to a community responsible for me being much of who I am, and no matter where I went in the world, at the end of the day, I’m just a kid from Auburn, N.Y.”