Reputation and Legacy: Lunch with Daniele Ferrara from Gianni’s Group in Palm Beach, Aruba

Two things I’ve come to appreciate in the world of entrepreneurship are reputation and legacy. I’m less impressed by how much money you have in the bank or how much social status you have than I am by your impact on those around you and how people respond when I ask questions like, “what is he really like to work for?”

If you’ve been to Aruba, chances are you’ve eaten at a restaurant owned by the Ferrara family. Jill and I had the pleasure of having lunch last week in Palm Beach Aruba with Daniele Ferrara at one of his family’s flagship restaurants, Gianni’s Ristorante Italiano, one of their most popular and one that has become a major tourist attraction thanks to their famous Spaghetti Al Formagio Parmigianno. During a few recent visits to Aruba we enjoyed the culinary experience of Gianni’s and we started to appreciate the chic style, genuine hospitality, and business savvy touches that Daniele and his siblings have brought to their impressive family empire known collectively as Gianni’s Group.

When I see an entrepreneur or VIP (Very Inspirational Person) who appears to be firing on all cylinders, I’ll start by simply asking some of his or her employees (especially the service staff) if their boss is a nice person and if so, does their boss make them feel valued. If I get enough positive reviews, I’ll ask that entrepreneur to lunch in hopes of getting to know him or her and hopefully having some of their brilliance and/or wisdom rub off on me.

I’m happy to report that Daniele Ferrara’s name kept being mentioned in a positive light. “He’s the nicest person you’ll want to meet,” “he’s very fun to be around,” and, “he always takes good care of us,” were the common sentiments expressed by his staff.

That was nice to hear. The only thing left was for the stars to align and have Daniele’s busy work and travel schedule match up with ours so we could carve out a time to sit down for lunch.

And what a lunch it was. Beyond the delicious antipasto with burrata cheese for the appetizer, the pesto gnocchi, tortellini marinara, salmon with broccoli rabe for the main course, and the dark chocolate mousse cake for dessert, it’s safe to say that Mr. Ferrara is a wonderful host. He made the nearly four hour visit feel like we were sitting down for Sunday macaroni with a cousin from Italy who we just learned was full of engaging stories and meaningful life lessons from the world of entrepreneurialism.

We chatted about the pros and cons of working for the family business from a young age and how, in addition to each of his siblings bringing their own perspective and talents to the table, (his brother Gianni is the COO and his sister is responsible for much of the design flair and textures you see) it’s nice to have eighty years of restaurant/food and beverage experience to draw from when necessary. (Before Daniele’s father passed away, both of Daniele’s parents were a treasure trove of success nuggets that Daniele would tap into when he needed some old-school business guidance.)

We talked about recognizing the importance of prioritizing mental health for yourself as well as your team members. Like many of us, Covid-19 hit Daniele hard both personally and professionally. With about 500 employees, you can imagine the stress that he and his family endure managing such a large entity during a typical year let alone during a pandemic. Daniele found and continues to find reprieve in yoga and the counsel of a few trusted individuals who not only tell him what he wants to hear, but what he needs to hear when times are tough and important lifestyle interventions need to happen. For his team, he made a pretty extraordinary move when it comes to monitoring their wellness by having a professional psychologist on the payroll and available to members when the need arises. Ferrara said it’s been a wonderful investment in the health and well-being of his team. Since he feels that balance is one of the keys to success, supporting the emotional aspect of health helps achieve that critical harmony of work-life integration.

We talked about travel. You can pretty much name the place and Daniele has been there.(I did a little pre-lunch cyberstalking of his Instagram and saw that before Covid he had been traveling everywhere from Thailand to Switzerland, Peru to Hong Kong, and Vietnam to Dubai.)Yes, Daniele travels for personal enjoyment and to be inspired so he can bring back new ideas and trends to implement into Gianni’s Group, but it was awesome to hear Daniele talk about his extensive travels with specific team members to places like Italy, France, and California for continuing education and training on exclusive wines and advanced culinary techniques.

We discussed nutrition and intermittent fasting. I’ve always been grateful that I don’t own a five-star restaurant or that I’m not an uber-talented chef because I’d probably be twice my weight surrounded by so much delicious food most of the day. Fortunately for Daniele, who loves to cook for his friends and family, he’s got more discipline than most fine restaurant owners. (Did I mention his family’s restaurant portfolio includes “Daniel’s Steak and Chop,” a savory steak house next door to Gianni’s and “Azia” an exceptional Asian eatery?)In addition to running, CrossFit, and working out with a trainer, he also consults with a nutritionist who helps guide him on not only eating less frequently, but eating smarter in general. For someone who has to keep boxes of homemade almond and pistachio panettone (Italian Christmas Bread made by his family in Naples and flown to Aruba) in his office for a few days every Christmas season to be given to VIP customers and clients, it is impressive that he is able to stay as fit as he is given the amount of caloric temptation he’s exposed to on a daily basis.

When I asked Daniele about the future, it was clear that long-term thinking is one of his main focuses and something about which he’s clearly passionate. Whether it’s continually updating the decor or improving the technology at his restaurants, Ferrara is constantly thinking of ways to enhance his customers’ overall experience when they come back to visit his family’s properties.

As soon as Covid hit, he knew the next two to three years would need to focus on bringing Gianni’s into people’s homes (like Uber Eats) so he and his family created “Gianni’s Group To Go”. Customers loved being able to order meals from the comfort of their homes and seeing the custom-wrapped (GG2GO) vehicles show up in their driveway. Daniele and his family also invested in self-sustainability so Gianni’s Group can benefit from growing their own produce and raising their own livestock to supply their restaurants. Ferrara and a few close friends, all of whom were born and raised in Aruba, have also begun to conceptualize a Waldorf-like school on the island where some of the local children, who for the most part would never have an opportunity to benefit from such an extraordinary education, would be able to experience a life-changing curriculum.

It’s fitting that when I asked Daniele if he had a favorite inspirational quote he didn’t hesitate to offer one of Gandhi’s beautiful sentiments, “be the change you want to see in the world.” Daniele shared that he used to dream for others and become disappointed when the dream was not realized. Now he supports his family, friends, and employees in their own dreaming and offers them opportunities to see beyond their perceived limitations.

Spending the afternoon with a fellow entrepreneur who enjoys helping the world celebrate life was delightful, insightful, and inspirational. Thank you for the wonderful company, Daniele, and we wish you continued health, happiness, and fulfillment.


-Marcello and Dr. Jill

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