Jason Pino is a second-generation Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee. His family owns 17 shops on the North Shore, and he’s served everyone from Matt Damon to Steven Tyler — in between napping on the yeast bags used to make the doughnuts, that is.
What’s the first restaurant you ever ate at in Boston? The first one I remember visiting is Pat’s Pushcart in the North End. My grandparents were Sicilian immigrants. No restaurant could rival my nonna’s lasagna, but this was a close second.
What’s one thing you’d like to fix about the restaurant industry here? I’d like to see more people view working in a restaurant as a career and not just a pit stop on the way to something else.
What other restaurants do you visit? I’ve always been a huge fan of the Gallows, Myers + Chang, Sofra, Kava Neo-Taverna, and Delux. Casa Romero is an old spot that I’ve always spent a lot of time at. I’m a creature of habit. I frequent the same places. I lived in Southie for years and just moved out to Concord — I was scared!
What’s your earliest food memory that made you think: I want to work in restaurants? I grew up napping on yeast bags where we used to make the doughnuts. You could move them all around and make them into a bed. I remember the joy of sitting with my root-beer-filled coffee mug talking with customers. What I learned is that people love to hang around, drink coffee, and chat. Any second- or third-generation [Dunkin’] franchisee who grew up in that era knows the experience.
What’s the worst restaurant experience you’ve ever had? I stopped in Arkansas at a popular waffle chain, and there was a sewer backup. Nothing changes the taste of a waffle like a sewer backup. We put our feet up on chairs and ate our waffles.
How could Boston become a better food city? I’d like to see more restaurants dedicated to clean eating, paleo- and plant-based. I had to go gluten-free two years ago. I don’t view these diets as passing trends. There aren’t enough options.
Name three adjectives for Boston diners. Working in quick-service, mine might be different than for restaurateurs: loyal, particular, and diverse. I have a customer who comes in every single day to one of our locations, and she gets a large iced coffee with 16 pumps of caramel swirl.
What’s the most overdone trend right now? I’ve never been a fan of the restaurant-nightclub. I don’t want to wait in the cold to eat.
What are you reading? I’m a father. I have two active children. One is 2 and one is 4. Since I’m busy with all the restaurants, the only books I have time for are kids’ books, usually when I’m putting them to sleep. We read a lot of “Goodnight Moon” and the Mama Llama series. That tends to be a popular one in our house.
How’s your commute? Better now that I left the city. Traffic has become worse with all the development in Southie and the Seaport. I was getting quite tired of leaving the city in the morning and sitting in traffic for hours. There’s no such thing as a reverse commute. I have an office in Woburn, and all my shops are within a half-hour of each other.
What’s the one food you never want to eat again? Quinoa. In our wedding vows, my wife promised never to make me quinoa. I don’t like the texture.
What kind of restaurant is Boston missing right now? That’s a great question. To be honest, there’s not any good Thai food in the city of Boston. You have to leave the city to find decent Thai food. I’ve tried every Thai restaurant in Boston that I could find on a Google search and have never been even a little bit impressed. It’s usually pretty bland. But if you leave Boston and go out to Norwood, there’s a place called Thai Thani. It’s the best I’ve found in Massachusetts.
What’s your most missed Boston restaurant? Franklin Southie. I used to live there, basically. We would stay there until all hours.
Who was your most memorable customer? I’ve been lucky enough to wait on three legends: Jim Rice, Matt Damon, and Steven Tyler. They were pretty normal. I think Matt Damon was the most polite, by far — not that Jim Rice isn’t. He is a true gentlemen and a regular in one of our locations, or was, for a long time. I haven’t seen him in a while. Tyler was just passing through and exactly how you’d imagine him. He got a regular coffee, super basic, nothing wild.
If you had to eat your last meal in Boston, what would it be? I would eat gluten and go to the Gallows and get a “carpet burger” and wash it down with a Sazerac. It’s a cheeseburger with fried oysters on top. Unbelievable.