Top of Mind: D'Amato, Extended Version

JB: One of my colleagues says he’s been struck by how you’ve been able to make the food bank—I’ll use his word—kind of cool. Jonathan Papelbon and the athletes help out with the funding, and you’re talking about staying in Boston because of the visibility. There’s also a branding aspect to that, if that’s a fair word to use.

CD: There is branding. That’s a great word to use. We did establish a marketing department. If people understand what you do, they’ll give, if they can connect to it. … It’s surprising to people that there’s such an issue of hunger in America. The number. I’ve had legislators come up to me and say, “Come on, one in eight? What are you nuts?” “No, I’m not nuts, it’s quantifiable research.”

JB: You talk about being around food your whole life. Has this job, and the work you’ve done, changed your fundamental view of food, and the role it plays in people’s lives?

CD: …I would say that there were times when my connection with food was very unconscious, and it just happened to be around in my life. And then there are times where I’ve had a greater appreciation for its importance and value and the fact that it is a currency. I think the power of it, you know. That image of Oliver Twist saying, “Please, sir, may I have more?” And hearing, “What? How dare you ask for more?” When you can see a child not fear that, you know you’ve made a difference. They have the fuel to do something the next day or to be able to sleep at night.…

JB: What I’m thinking of is the role that food plays in a restaurant, in your family’s restaurant, as a thing to come together around, as something as a foundation for celebration. Fundamentally a positive thing. And this is the flip side of it—or at least the absence of that.

CD: …In the restaurant we were taught that if anyone came to the back door saying, “Can I come in and wash dishes for a meal?” you said no—you just brought them in and sat them down and fed them. The joke in our family was there were only two kinds of people who got free food. It was the nun and priest coming through the front door, and the beggar at the back door. That’s a pretty powerful message as a child. You either come through the front door, and you have some sort of religious conviction—because that was my father’s commitment to Catholicism—but if you come through the back door and beg for food, you are the same. And you are both treated with dignity. That has stayed with me a lot: The right for food is equal. One shouldn’t have to beg for it. One shouldn’t have to work for it. It’s there. We should be able to give it.

JB: I guess the subtext of that question is that I could see you being a very successful restaurateur, feeding people. This is tougher.

CD: I could have done it that way. But I’m like, “Give me the challenge.” I’ve always been that way. “Sure, we can do that,” or “Why can’t we do that?” …I know there’s more work to do and I know I only have my lifetime. And I want to feel like I did as much as I could…. If I could drive a fast car all the time, I would. I like to go, I like to get there.

…So I could have opened a restaurant, I could have been a singer, I could have been a conductor, I could have, you know, been a racecar driver, maybe. But my passion was to use myself to advance something else. I know for myself that I need that cause and a mission of something. I probably wouldn’t have been a good corporate soldier.

One of my favorite sayings is from Shakespeare, which is “The readiness is all.” Sometimes nothing moves until it’s ready to move. And that’s frustrating. So to answer your question, of all the careers, food banking is a very passionate industry. It’s kept my attention for nearly 30 years. It’s never dull, it’s entrepreneurial, you’re solving problems all the time, you’re responding to things you have no control over.