Interview By Lisa Gmur, CSW
In case you are not aware of Delaware North’s Patina Restaurant Group, well, let me introduce you. It’s one of the world’s leading restaurant and catering companies with high profile venues from Morimoto in Lake Buena Vista in Florida to Uva Bar & Café in Anaheim, California.
They operate some of the busiest and most famous kitchens in the world. They also are leaders in special event catering from top sports stadiums, concerts and resorts to national parks, distinct cultural attractions and some of the world’s busiest airports.
We talked with Dana Pellicano, President, Delaware North’s Patina Restaurant Group (a new role for her) about everything from the “Northern Lights” to the Supreme Court, and of course, wine.
Okay, so you’re a Jersey Girl. What’s the saying? Which Exit?
Ha! Garden State Parkway exit 151! Just a few miles west of New York City. Taylor Ham. FTW. And if you get that, you’re from Jersey too.
Which I am not. But I am looking them up.
Okay… a Taylor Ham “is a Taylor Pork roll made of processed meat commonly available in New Jersey and neighboring states. It was developed in 1856 by John Taylor of Trenton, and sold as "Taylor's Prepared Ham" until 1906.” Interesting.
Ooh…. I love FTW! (FOR THE WIN —used especially to express approval or support Night out with the girls.”)
Totally reminds me of Saturday Night Fever. I want more. Googling now. Disco Fries!
(Disco fries are a New Jersey diner classic. Crunchy crinkle-cut fries get bathed in an easy homemade gravy and gooey mozzarella cheese)
My dad was a cardiologist, and my mom was a managing director at the New York Stock Exchange.
I don’t know where all the math and science comes from, honestly.
My sister and mom were both math majors. I am the only one that gene seems to have skipped.
I absolutely do not have that gene either. What did you want to be?
Either a lawyer (a supreme court justice eventually) or a journalist (political reporter).
The Political reporter I totally get. I wanted to be a foreign correspondent. But Supreme Court justice. Wow. Just wow. What was your childhood like? Any experiences that sang loudly?
My father passed when I was young, so growing up it was me, my mother and younger sister. My mom was the most badass, resilient, and intrepid single mom you will ever know.
She took us on unusual vacations – to Caracas, or the Canary Islands, for example – and traveled every day into NYC for work, leaving at 6am and not returning til 6pm.
For years, my sister and I were grown-up teenagers, who were responsible for all sorts of house maintenance and chores, and putting dinner on the table.
She taught us to be able to take of ourselves no matter what (I’ve worked full time since I was 15), she placed a premium on education and learning, and doing well in school was a non-negotiable.
It wasn’t an option to slack or relax in the Donna Pellicano household, and while I likely under appreciated it as a child, I definitely esteem her for it as an adult.
She taught me hustle, the value of hard work, and a fearlessness that I doubt I would have otherwise known.
I love that your mom was so awesome. I am pretty sure most moms in that situation would not have been so gallant. Especially with her work schedule. She is one cool mom.
How was she in the kitchen? Was it mac n cheese or Steak au Poivre for dinner?
Somewhere in the middle, I suppose.
My mom was an amazing cook of a limited repertoire (mostly Italian classics she learned from her mom), and she had an incredible finesse and perfection in how she cooked.
I really got exposed to more flavors and tastes where I went to college.
And where was that?
I studied International Studies and Art History at Fordham University in New York City.
Seeing a little of that Political Reporter in your studies. What was your first job?
I was a “phone girl” at a pizzeria in my hometown of Bloomfield, NJ. Back then, when people wanted pizza to go or for delivery, they had to actually call a human person, and the phone was tethered to the kitchen wall, where I would in addition to taking orders also act as a prep cook – making antipasti salads, and cutting way too much garlic.
A brutal job. So how did you get your current and wicked cool job with Marriott?
I literally and figuratively grew up in restaurants – working first in that pizzeria, and then in snack shops in country clubs in New Jersey, until my first management job at a Starbucks in NY when I was in college.
Then I started hostessing, waiting tables and bartending at various restaurants in NY but managers always tried to make me a supervisor (I was always on time, my bank was to the penny, and I did my side work religiously!).
See you do have a little of that math gene!
Well, I was still bent on saving the world through international diplomacy, and I was also working daytime at the United Nations when ultimately, I realized that I could make a real career out of F&B.
I started graduate school at New York University for Food Studies and Management and at the same time took an Assistant Manager job at Lupa, a very popular downtown NYC Italian restaurant. I ultimately rose to became General Manager there and had a number of jobs with that restaurant group before I wanted more than just single restaurant responsibility.
I started at the Ritz-Carlton NY Battery Park, and then quickly transferred to the RC DC. (the Ritz Carlton Washington D.C.) I loved that in hotels, F&B was more than just one evening at a restaurant, but how guests could experience travel.
I’ve been with Marriott now for 15 years, rising slowly through various jobs in restaurant and bar in the continent to now a global F&B role.
Such a cool journey. Very impressive. Now, let’s talk wine. Do you remember your first taste?
Does Boone’s farm count? If not, then no…
How about one of those “aha” wine moments? Like when you tasted your first Champagne?
I was profoundly affected by a visit to Les Crayeres, early in my career.
(Editors Note: Having never been to Champagne, I had to google this later. Les Crayeres is a famous hotel and restaurant in Reims, France.)
It was a moment when history, struggle, and craftsmanship all became so clear to me and crystalized for me what really happens before the glass gets to us. Before that, anything I knew felt surface level or academic.
So profound. And very Voltaire. And all this just gets me thinking about travel. Where else have you been besides France?
I’ve had the luxury of traveling all over the world, and Dubai and Venice were trips for the ages, but I’ve loved most, the places I’ve truly spent time and built relationships.
Chicago is one of those places. I’ve worked on so many projects and spent so much time that I actually feel like a local in some ways, although not with the pizza, and I don’t love hot dogs!
For leisure, I’ll take a trip to see my sister and her family in Berkeley over any place else in the world, but if they would join us at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, that would be my second choice!
I am desperate to see the Northern Lights, from the outer reaches of Alaska.
I love champagne, and pinot noir. But I’ll drink a highly acidic, light bodied northern Italian white wine from Friuli any day of the week. I spent some time in Friuli and I truly think some of the most interesting whites come from there.
Oh my goodness! I fell deeply and madly in love with the capital, Trieste. The wine, the food. To die for. What’s your favorite thing to put on a plate?
Agreed. Any other hobbies besides food and wine?
Ha! We love to play tennis upstate and are gym rats when we are in NYC; helps offset the steady stream of bagels and NYC pizza upon which I insist.
It’s luckier than I could ever imagine, but I always knew I would be a lifetime New Yorker.
My mother would say that even when I was a kid, going to NY was my favorite thing to do. I moved here when I was 17 and excepting a year in Italy and 4 years in D.C. I’ve never been anywhere else.
My husband and I split time between Harlem and the Hudson Valley with our rescue chihuahua mix Luna.
I’ve always wanted to drive across country and see the many things I’ve not yet seen. I’m luckily well world-traveled, but less so here in the US.
To do it right though is a considerable investment in time which feels a ways off for me today!
A perfect way to end. Thank you so much.