FEDERICO CASTELLUCCI III
President, Castellucci Hospitality Group
Of all the recipes used in his family’s restaurants, Fred Castellucci holds the recipe for success closest. He has thrived by staying true to his roots and formulating a philosophy around what sincere hospitality means. Innovation is essential, but it is also important to maintain a connection to the past.
As president of Castellucci Hospitality Group (CHG), Castellucci oversees four restaurants: Cooks & Soldiers (Westside), Double Zero (Emory), The Iberian Pig (Decatur) and Sugo (John’s Creek). This year, CHG will add two more spots to its roster, both in the Krog Street Market: Bar Mercado, serving Spanish tapas, and a yet-to-be-named food stall that he describes as “vibrant and fresh.”
The restaurant business is in Fred Castellucci’s blood. One hundred years ago, his great-grandparents opened an eatery in Rhode Island. “Each generation since, in some form or fashion, has been in the business,” Castellucci says. While his father, Federico II, was in law school, the family enterprise his parents started in 1947 burned down. He quit law school and rebuilt it before moving to Atlanta in the 1990s where he launched his own venture, the Roasted Garlic, in Alpharetta. After graduating from Cornell with hopes of becoming an investment banker, Castellucci also jumped into the family business. He watched as the Roasted Garlic grew too quickly and shuttered.
As we sat in the dining room of Double Zero, he recounted how consequential failure is to his family’s success. They learned about growing too quickly. Missteps are a huge part of success to him. This is something he thinks sets him apart from his contemporaries. “People are too proud and not able to put ego aside,” he says. His dad is his greatest mentor. “His successes and why they worked, his failures and why they didn’t— those were my greatest learning experiences,” he says, as the senior Castellucci himself conducts a meeting with his staff across the room.
Castellucci sees theatre as a good corollary to the restaurant business. “At the end of the day, it comes down to how you deliver night in and night out on the product and the service and the hospitality, and how well you get to know your guests,” Castellucci says. “All those tiny details. To do it really well, you have to build upon it day in and day out…this production every night. And that is why some people get burned out.”
To stay relevant in the restaurant world, Castellucci’s approach is to escape it from time to time. “I try reading, writing and traveling, getting out of the business [mode] where I can make new creative connections… new ideas,” he says. Recent trips have taken him to Japan, Mexico and Spain.
Putting together cohesive teams— the word Castellucci prefers instead of staff, employees or personnel—is important to the organization. “Creating a culture that is a positive one is important,” he says. He sees success as a collaborative endeavor, with general managers, chefs, back of the house and front of the house having equal influence. He tries to give people creative freedom with a framework to build a culture of being able to say yes to guests as much as possible and “nailing those day in/day out interactions.” The goal is to take care of each individual guest and instill that philosophy and passion in his teams.
“When hospitality really means something, it can be powerful,” he says. “It’s not just lip service; we actually follow through.” Overcoming hardships endowed Castellucci with inspiration while formulating a distinct philosophy about service and staying true to one’s roots helped him thrive.
STORY: Angela Hansberger
PHOTO: Sara Hanna