If things had gone just a little bit differently, D’Amico & Partners, the Twin Cities restaurant and catering empire, could have been a New Jersey-based company. Back when brothers Richard D’Amico and Larry D’Amico were getting their business off the ground as restaurant consultants, they landed a job to open a place on the Jersey Shore.
Richard isn’t sure if he should even talk about it, 35 years later, but let’s just say it involved some shady dealings by the property developer, a meeting with a banker that seemed to come straight out of “The Sopranos,” and a cryptic warning for the young upstarts to mind their own business.
Needless to say, they fled New Jersey and quit consulting. Instead, they threw their energy into opening a place of their own: the legendary D’Amico Cucina in Minneapolis, which opened in 1987 and became a launchpad for dozens of culinary stars (Tim McKee, Isaac Becker, Doug Flicker) who went on to shape the Twin Cities dining scene.
While they were making a name for themselves in Minneapolis, the brothers were also opening a restaurant at Edinburgh USA golf course in Brooklyn Park. They ran the clubhouse dining room in the early part of their careers in Minnesota, before expanding their company into the ubiquitous food business it is today, both here and in Naples, Fla.
In addition to catering operations in landmark buildings around the Twin Cities, they own the six-outlet fast-casual D’Amico & Sons chain, the restaurants Cafe & Bar Lurcat in Minneapolis and Campiello in Eden Prairie. In Florida, they own another Campiello, another D’Amico & Sons, and the Continental steakhouse.
Now, they’re back at Edinburgh USA. Last month, the entire clubhouse at the golf course got a major overhaul thanks to a $1.5 million investment from the Brooklyn Park Economic Development Authority. The city of Brooklyn Park chose D’Amico to take over catering operations, as well as the clubhouse restaurant they first opened back in 1987. The team has brightened up a stodgy, wood-paneled and wallpapered gathering space with cool grays, silver, paisley, lots of natural light and a new “American bistro” menu. And it’s called the Brooklyn (8700 Edinbrook Crossing, Brooklyn Park, 763-315-8535, brooklynedinburgh.com).
“It’s like déjà vu,” Larry said, of once again running the place.
Richard, who oversees design, is based in Naples, Fla. Larry runs the culinary side of the company from the D’Amico & Partners office in International Market Square. At the recent opening celebration for the Brooklyn, the brothers (who are 16 months apart in age) reunited in the clubhouse restaurant that brings back so many memories of their early days in the business.
They reminisced about D’Amico Cucina’s glory days, explained how their relationship has survived working together, and clued us in as to what’s next for the company in Florida and in Minnesota.
And no, there’s not a Jersey Shore restaurant on the horizon.
Q: What was the Brooklyn like before the renovation?
Richard: It was so dark in here. You wouldn’t have wanted to spend time in here.
Larry: It was old, tired. It was time.
Q: How did you approach the menu?
Larry: This is a tough one up here. For the restaurant, we had to have a menu that was number one for the golf course. Number two for the community. And at the same time, it had to be current and fun. But it’s something that we’re finding our way. We sell a lot of the fun stuff. We’re trying to figure out what will work for dinner for the community.
Q: With this opening, and the recent closing of the D’Amico & Sons on St. Paul’s Grand Avenue, are there any other changes coming?
Richard: I’ve got something up my sleeve in Florida. It’s going to be called the Club Room at Campiello. There’s a shoe store that backs up to the courtyard. They didn’t renew their lease, so we’re taking half of that. And we’re working on another concept for Naples, but it could be a year or two off.
Larry: We pick our spots.
Richard: We’re not trying to build D’Amico & Sons into a big chain. We’re hanging on to what we have and operating it well and trying to make everything better. Probably the most expansion has been in the catering division in the last five years.
Larry: Maybe to open a place every couple years would be nice, rather than a couple places every year.
Richard: It keeps you fresh.
Q: How did you get into the food business?
Larry: Our parents owned a restaurant in Ohio for 35 years and we grew up there. That’s how we got into the business. And I think I can say I didn’t want to be in it and, eventually, I ended up in it and I loved it.
Richard: I tried to get out of it.
Larry: We didn’t like working Friday and Saturday nights. Our friends were all out and we were working. When you’re 21 years old, who wants to do that? But my parents owned the restaurant and we got some of those genes.
Q: What changes have you seen in Twin Cities dining since you started your business?
Larry: The amount of really good restaurants, it is just amazing. He [Richard] comes up here [to the Twin Cities] because he lives in Florida. We took him to Young Joni; he loved it. We took him to Martina; he loved it. Bar La Grassa — he loves Bar La Grassa. And of course, Cafe Lurcat.
Richard: Spoon and Stable. Bellecour. There’s so much.
Larry: It’s exciting. Thirty-five years we’ve been here. When we opened our own restaurant, D’Amico Cucina was the spot in town.
Richard: When you walked into Cucina, you were not in Minneapolis anymore. You were in New York.
Q: Do you have any favorite memories from that time?
Richard: I got to meet Sophia Loren. We had a picture of her in the bar. She signed that for me. It’s in my office right now.
Q: How do you keep your relationship intact after all these years working together?
Larry: He lives in Naples and I live in Minneapolis.
Richard: Larry does the culinary side, I do the creative side and our CFO does the financials.
Q: So, you don’t talk about money?
Larry: Oh, we talk about money.
Richard: Everybody respects everybody’s areas and it’s worked out well. We go on vacations together.
Larry: We’re family.