Donato Frattaroli hails from the well-known family that owns countless restaurants in the North End and beyond. Frattaroli personally oversees Artu and Il Molo in the North End and Artu on Beacon Hill, as well as Victory Point in Quincy with his son, Donato Frattaroli Jr., bringing classic red sauce to Marina Bay. When the warm weather arrives, he’ll open an adjacent pizza shop. Not bad for a guy who got his start as a dishwasher in East Boston.
What’s the first restaurant you ever ate at in Boston? A restaurant that’s not there anymore, the European. It was famous for pizzas and pastas. This was probably in 1971.
What’s one thing you’d like to fix about the restaurant industry here? In Boston, we have so much going on, right? And what’s happening today, they make it so extremely hard for the average person to start their own business. The permitting process takes about a year. And then it’s extremely costly. This is why you see fewer and fewer chef-owners doing that.
What other restaurants do you visit? If I want pizza, I go to Santarpio’s. For steaks, I love Pellana in Peabody. I live in Saugus.
What’s your earliest food memory that made you think: I want to work in restaurants? When I came to the US, I was 14 years old. I worked at Cantina Italiana as a dishwasher. I learned a lot. What I enjoyed was the people I worked with and the customers. They were appreciative of what you did for them. In 1973 or 1974, I was working at a restaurant in East Boston, and one day the owner said, ‘Why don’t you and your brothers buy the restaurant?’ I spoke to my brothers, and we bought the restaurant. This was Zia Maria.
What’s the worst restaurant experience you’ve ever had? A lot of times, when I go to restaurants, I do not get pasta. I like to get steaks. I get steaks medium rare. At this particular restaurant, they brought me a steak, well-done. So I said to the waiter, “That’s not what I ordered.” He brings me a piece of meat that’s completely raw. I said, “Something’s not right. Could I have my check?” He brings it over, puts it on the table, and says, “If you have any comments, the manager is right there.” He charged me for both. My wife called him over, and he said, “Is there an issue?” I said, “Yes, I asked for this steak medium rare, but it was well-done. Then you brought out something completely raw.” The guy looks at me and goes, “People like you should never go out to eat. You don’t know what you’re ordering.”
How could Boston become a better food city? I think Boston today has some of the greatest restaurants, but probably we need some more Southern food. We have a good mix of Italian, Chinese, Mexican — I think Boston is a city that has almost everything. The issue is we don’t have enough staff qualified to work at restaurants. I hope the state and the city add more programs in schools to train the workforce.
Name three adjectives for Boston diners. They have traveled; they walk into a restaurant and know what to expect. Their palate is much more refined. They are looking for — what do you call it? — fair prices.
What’s the most overdone trend right now? One is burgers. The other is macaroni and cheese.
What are you reading? The only thing I read every day is the Globe. I just watched “The Founder,” about the founder of McDonald’s. It’s on TV, if you have a chance watch it.
How’s your commute? It went from bad to worse to horrendous! I go from Saugus to Boston to Quincy. The little stretch from Boston to Quincy is horrendous.
What’s the one food you never want to eat again? You know, I eat everything. The only thing I’ve never eaten is snake.
What kind of restaurant is Boston missing right now? I’d like to see smaller restaurants operated by the owners, where you go in and see the person you recognize, the guy who serves you and takes care of you.
What’s your most missed Boston restaurant? The European, which was a staple in the North End for I don’t know how many years. L’Espalier, that was a very good restaurant, too.
Who was your most memorable customer? I have many of them! We had Kobe Bryant, Bobby Orr, Ryan Seacrest. But the person who stood out the most was Bobby Orr. He was such a gentleman. My kids were small, and they wanted an autograph. He said, “Not right now, but give me the name and addresses of all your friends, and I’ll send them all a card.” And he did, with a signed photo. It was great.
If you had to eat your last meal in Boston, what would it be? A nice stuffed lobster by chef Pino Maffeo at Il Molo.