When political science student Joe DiFronzo chose his senior project back in 1988, he knew there was only one option: opening a restaurant.
DiFronzo runs the homestyle Italian restaurant Giuseppe’s Cucina Rustica, which first opened in the Landmark Hotel space on Price Street in Pismo Beach. But starting a business as at 20 years old wasn’t easy.
When DiFronzo pitched his idea to his senior project adviser, her response was: “How does that relate to political science?”
“This is what I want to do with the rest of my life. This will be more impactful and less material than a paper that’s going to be thrown away,” DiFronzo told her.
DiFronzo’s argument worked. He was slated to begin the project in his final year.
Though DiFronzo grew up with uncles who owned Italian delis, he didn’t necessarily know how the restaurant business worked.
“My passion far exceeded my talent,” DiFronzo said.
Though the restaurant business was a common thread among his uncles and extended family, managing people proved to be the toughest challenge for him.
DiFronzo also had to learn to cook for a restaurant packed with people.
“It’s easy to cook for two to four people, but I didn’t know how to cook for 200 to 500 people and still keep the quality,” DiFronzo said. “That’s the main part: maintaining consistency and quality.”
That quality is maintained to date. All the recipes originate from DiFronzo’s grandparents and some of the ingredients are grown in DiFronzo’s garden. The broccoli rabe, tomatoes and basil all come from DiFronzo’s own plot of land, as does the DiFronzo wine served in house.
“The thing we live by is ‘Chi mangia bene sta andando a vivere bene,’ which translates to ‘Whoever eats well is going to live well,’” DiFronzo’s son, Giuseppe DiFronzo, said.
Video by Allison Royal
From a player to coach
DiFronzo said watching the team of 50 to 60 people grow over the years has been rewarding for him as leader.
“I’m a coach, I’m not a player anymore,” he said, reflecting back on his Cal Poly football career when he served as the team’s nose guard.
Even when DiFronzo was a political science undergraduate and football player, he knew he would not pursue politics or sports. As a first-generation Italian-American, he didn’t follow the path his parents envisioned for him.
“They wanted me to get a career after graduation and wear a suit and tie,” DiFronzo said.
But instead he chose the restaurant business, which he attributes to his deli-owner uncles. Because of his family, he was instilled with the entrepreneurial spirit to make something new.
Room to grow
DiFronzo’s vision and mindset for growth proved him well the past 30 years.When he first wanted to open Giuseppe’s in Pismo Beach at the Landmark Hotel, he said to the owner, an 89-year-old dairy farmer, “Hey, I can make something of this place.”
That’s just what he did. Giuseppe’s opened in 1988. Three years later, he relocated his vision from the Landmark Hotel to another vacant space: Plessas Tavern, a historic Greek-family-owned restaurant.
“I brought this place back to life,” DiFronzo said.
One of his favorite memories traces back to the Pismo restaurant when his family from Italy came to visit Giuseppe’s.
“They saw a two-hour line outside the door and they saw I made it from nothing,” he said. “I was proud.”
Looking back on his success with the restaurant, DiFronzo said it comes down to one thing: “If you have a dream, follow it. People told me, ‘Pismo is a dead town. There’s nothing there,’ but I thought I could [open a restaurant] and it happened,” DiFronzo said.
Giuseppe’s Pismo location will reopen during September or October this year after being rebuilt from a fire last June. DiFronzo said the restaurant will have the same look and attributes as the one before because that is the classic Italian style.
“I’ve cleaned up the ashes. I have no roof, but I can see the stars again. I can see the sky,” he said.
In the meantime, Giuseppe’s downtown San Luis Obispo location is still open for business.