founder alberto lombardi
Think Pancetta, Not Town Cars. And a Hefty Splash of Amore. 35 Years in the Hospitality Businesswith Award-Winning Restaurants
Dallas, TX - A case could be made for including Alberto Lombardi in a long list of impressive Italian exports. Gucci and Ferrari, not to mention perfectly brewed espresso, have all migrated from the boot-shaped epicenter of style that spawned da Vinci and Titian. But style is one thing. A cool head for business is quite another. Combine the two and you’ll likely end up with someone bearing a remarkable resemblance to the affable and dynamic native of Forli, Italy who, even as a young boy, dreamed of travel and success.
For the handful of people who don’t already know, Alberto Lombardi is the successful restaurateur who’s managed to dot the American landscape with a dazzling collection of well-appointed and well-attended dining hotspots. Lombardi’s hallmark is a conspicuously artful blend of fabulous dining and Continental allure. And in Fall 2012, his family and loyal guests will celebrate Alberto Lombardi’s 35th anniversary as a celebrated restaurant owner.
To attribute his success to sheer happenstance is statistically impossible. He’s hit the mark too often and too long in an arena deemed to be among the toughest in the marketplace to attribute his success to anything but a finely honed sense of style accompanied by impeccable business acumen.
Lombardi has received countless accolades and been dubbed a “Legendary Restaurateur” and “Restaurateur of the Decade.” While this is impressive, it’s also completely logical. He brought previously unknown Italian staples to Dallas – the now ubiquitous focaccia is just one example – with a zeal that was almost messianic.
In 1977, he opened his first restaurant, Lombardi’s, in Dallas. It was an ambitious and charming homage to his love for Italian cuisine – and McKinney Avenue was never the same. He created a space that was comfortable and charming before the word “bistro” was part of common parlance and, of course, the food was a deliciously piquant nod to his roots. If the words “build it and they will come” weren’t already taken, they would certainly be an apt Lombardi mantra.
After his initial foray, the rest, as they say, is history. He went on to create concept-based restaurants and lounges that include: Taverna Pizzeria and Risotteria (Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin, TX); Penne Pomodoro (Dallas); Toulouse Café and Bar (Dallas); Sangria Tapas y Bar (Dallas); La Fiorentina Tuscan Grill (Dallas);Bistro 31, 31 Lounge (Dallas)and Lombardi’s Romagna Mia(Las Vegas).
One of his more recent masterpieces is an elegant tour de force situated in Dallas’s prestigious, historic Highland Park Village. Dubbed Bistro 31, Mr. Lombardi’s venue serves up enough European ambiance to save patrons airfare and the hassle of DFW terminals. If you’re craving pancetta, greens and Manchego, trumpet mushrooms or walnut pistou, you’ve just located gastronomical nirvana. The service is distinctly European and Bistro 31 is yet another jaw dropping jewel in Mr. Lombardi’s already impressively hefty crown.
Stepping outside of his typical concept-based restaurant, Lombardi’s most recent venture is a champagne and cocktail lounge located above Bistro 31. Simply called 31 Lounge, the new venue features luxurious but intimate spaces including a champagne bar, terrace villa, and outdoor patio. As with all of Lombardi’s restaurants, 31 Lounge boasts European flair and a level of service that keeps everyone coming back.
Not bad for an immigrant who arrived in Dallas with two hundred dollars in his pocket. Lombardi is inherently adept at offering impeccable service that includes kissing the hands of female patrons and treating diners more like guests in his home than customers. He also maintains a furiously demanding schedule and has been known to bus tables and personally prepare food for patrons if a chef experiences a momentary glitch.
Lombardi compares his childhood to the movie, “Cinema Paradiso.” He says, “I grew up pretty much that way. I looked at movies through the little projector cabinet.” Consequently, his first glimpse of America was a post-war celluloid version. “All the movies at the time were made by Americans. It was Westerns and war movies with John Wayne,” he says. Lombardi’s father was a bricklayer and his mother worked as a cleaning woman. Their apartment had two rooms: a kitchen and a bedroom. The toilet was two floors down.
Luckily, this spartan life was accompanied by idyllic summers in the glorious Italian countryside where his grandparent’s lived in a home that had been in his family since the 13th century. Lombardi explains, “They lived off of the land the way people lived 500 years ago, taking care of horses, going to the little church on Sunday, taking the sheep and cows to the pasture for feeding, I call it paradise. It was the best memory I ever had.”
Paradise ended when Lombardi entered a Franciscan seminary school to study for the priesthood. He stayed three years. "Discipline was unbelievable. You're talking about a medieval type of seminary. Anything you did wrong, they would come around and give you one of these,” he says while demonstrating a cuff to his head. "Looking back, I think maybe it was the best thing for me, because after that everything else was a piece of cake.”
After three years, Lombardi left the seminary and at 17, he finally left home. He traveled first to Germany, and then to Belgium, working in a variety of restaurants. After three years in Brussels, Lombardi took a job on a luxury liner that took around the world cruises, allowing him to visit continents all over the world.
In 1973, he decided to stay in Miami after the ship made a stop, and worked in a French restaurant owned by a couple he knew from Belgium. In October 1973, Lombardi made his way to Texas, where he worked as a waiter at the Fairmont Hotel before quickly being promoted to manager of the upscale Venetian Room. Eventually he gambled everything on his initial McKinney Avenue location and it paid off — big.