Father-Son Restaurant Duos Dish on Keeping it in the Family

Tim Maslow of Strip T's, Christopher Lin of Seven Star Street Bistro, and Philip Frattaroli of Ducali discuss what it's like to work with their old men.

With Father’s Day this weekend, you’re probably eyeballing every “World’s Best Dad” mug and goofy tie in Boston. Us? We’re eyeballing a few of the area’s finest father-son restaurant teams: Paul and Tim Maslow of Strip T’s in Watertown (who we wrote about in February), Joseph and Christopher Lin of Seven Star Street Bistro in Roslindale, and Fillipo and Philip Frattaroli of Fillipo’s and Ducali in the North End. Each son has taken a different path to join the family business, and it hasn’t all been neat. So back away from the cuff links and read on for what these men have to say about working with their old man.

Paul (left) and Tim Maslow. Photo by Scott Lacey.

Strip T’s: Paul and Tim Maslow.

Partnership established May 2011, 93 School St., Watertown, 617-923-4330

You spent your summers with your dad working at Strip T’s, then went off to New York to study as a chef. How did you two decide to come together and decide to do this?
TM: I just felt that my time in New York was done, and I could move anywhere and work for any famous chef, or I could just cook what I want to cook and have fun. I called him one day and said, “Hey, how do you feel about making Strip T’s busier?” I felt like I had a lot of good initiative and determination and ideas to make Strip T’s something. I had no idea what it would turn into—kind of an animal or a beast right now. But that was the initial thought: do you want to make Strip T’s busier, and can we work together?

What’s it like working with him?
We found some kind of synergy to make it work. The last four months have been pretty good because the proof was in the punch. When everything started working out, there was less tension between the two of us.

So would you say you’re good business partners?
Fourteen months in? Yeah, I think it’s working out. I mean, two months in, three months in, I think both of us would have said probably not. But no, I don’t think either of us could hope for any better.

Any dish of his from the old menu that you’ve just carried over?
Just one. The Caesar salad. Because quite honestly, it’s the best Caesar salad I’ve ever had. It’s not because I grew up eating it, it’s just quite honestly the best Caesar salad that I’ve ever found. It’s simple. It’s fresh. All the flavors are bright. It just tastes great.

Anything else you’d like to add?
He is the realist and I’m the idealist in the relationship. So I have my head in the clouds most of the day, and he’s the one helping to reign me back in. I always feel like parents get the bum rap in father-son or parent-child working situations—where they’re old and stuck in their ways and fuddy duddies—and that’s completely not the case here. I really see how difficult I am to work with. I don’t always see it in the moment, but when I have time to think about it, I’m a very difficult person—in personal life and in my professional life. He hasn’t freaked out on me once when I just lose control.

Joseph (left) and Christopher Lin. Photo courtesy of Christopher Lin.

Seven Star Street Bistro: Joseph and Christopher Lin

Partnership established June 2011, 153-155 Belgrade Ave., Roslindale, 617-325-8686

You come from a line of restaurant owners, with the Seven Star Mandarin House being in your family for two decades before it closed. Did you ever think you’d again be working alongside your dad?
CL: It was a dream of mine ever since I was a kid. I grew up in the restaurant with my brother. All my relatives worked there—my cousins and nine aunts and uncles were all the waitstaff and kitchen staff. It was just a family affair. My brother and I would help making ravioli, help out at the counter. Sometimes we just got in the way, but it was a lot of fun.

You went to San Francisco for culinary school. What made you return home to join your father?
I pursued a profession in cooking and restaurants because I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and my family’s footsteps and carry on the tradition. When I was in school learning how to cook, I realized I had one of the best teachers at home. I wanted to learn his recipes and learn from my father before he wouldn’t be able to teach me.

How did you two decide to come together and take on a family business again?
My father had an acquaintance who owned the restaurant that occupied the space before we took it over. When we went there, it was closed down and she was selling it, which we didn’t know beforehand. When we walked away from the restaurant and were driving home, we just talked it over with each other and both seemed to be on the same page as far as this could be something that we wanted to do. It was good timing and the right opportunity, so we just went for it.

What’s it like working with your dad?
It’s great. We’re both stubborn people, so we can butt heads once in a while. When it comes down to it, it’s work, so it’s not magical every single day. But in it’s own way, it’s a lot of fun. I never thought I’d have the opportunity to work alongside him and learn from him, so I cherish the time I have with him.

What dish do you and your dad share?
The hot and sour soup. I make it half the time; he makes it half the time. He obviously showed me the recipe, but it’s unique. I haven’t found hot and sour soup that’s like it. It’s pretty well known. I would say that he and I are the only two people who know how to make soup like that.

What advice have you picked up from your dad?
Asian cuisine is not a cuisine that is subtle. It usually has bold flavors. He’s always told me to not be afraid to make flavors bold, to stand out. And never stop improving the product. Even today my dad will have a recipe for 40, 50 years, and I’ll still see him make changes to that. Going to Chinatown, I can pick everything out by sight now, and I know how to use the ingredients together. That’s a major thing he taught me about cooking, because people who didn’t grow up with that style of cooking, understanding Asian ingredients, don’t really know how to use them together. So that’s been really cool.

Fillipo (left) and Philip Frattaroli. Photo courtesy of the Frattarolis.

Fillipo’s: Fillipo and Philip Frattaroli

Partnership forthcoming, when Fillipo’s reopens later this year as San Marco, 283 Causeway St., Boston, 617-742-4143

You grew up in the restaurant business, and now you own Ducali in the North End and are planning on reopening Fillipo’s with your father later this year. Did you ever think you’d join the family business?
PF: Growing up in a restaurant family, you see firsthand how hard it is, the hours it takes you away from your family. So when I was deciding what I wanted to do with my life, I wanted to do something more 9-to-5. So I went to law school, but I was always a foodie and always interested in what was going on in the restaurant scene—I just didn’t want to work in a restaurant.

A few months before I graduated, my brother Mark was killed in a car accident. Mark was 16. He was the exact opposite of me; he loved working in my father’s restaurants. It seemed pretty clear that he was going to take over the family business. When he was killed, the same week the tenant that was in the space which is now Ducali walked away from his lease, and I took another look at the restaurant business. I realized that I didn’t want to be a lawyer. Lawyers deal with people during the worst times in their lives, whereas in a restaurant, you are around people who are coming in to celebrate, to spend time with family and friends. It is a completely different dynamic.

What were you doing when you decided to open Ducali?
I was finishing my last year of law school. I took the bar exam two weeks after we opened!

Did you grow up cooking with your father?
Food was a huge part of my childhood, and I would cook with him in the restaurant and at home. When I was at Boston College, my parents would tailgate for the football games, and it was unlike any tailgates the Heights had ever seen before. He would bring fresh Italian sausage from Sulmona Meat Market in the North End, lamb arosticini, marinated eggplant, lasagna, all kinds of great stuff that you don’t see at football tailgates. Our tailgate was a mandatory stop for all of my friends on Saturday afternoons.

How did you two decide to close Filippo’s after being open for 35 years and open your forthcoming restaurant?
I think it’s the right time in both of our lives. Not many fathers and sons get to work together, period. Never mind undertake a new challenge together. The restaurant business has changed a lot over the last 35 years, and there are things that he does well that I don’t know how to do and vice versa. I joke that after college and law school and everything else, it wasn’t until I opened a successful restaurant of my own that my father realized that I know what I am talking about.

What’s it like working with him?
It’s hard. When you open a restaurant, you put so much of yourself into it, into every decision you make. There are two pretty big egos involved, but I try to remember that ultimately our relationship as father and son is more important than the color of a booth or the kind of plates we get. I do have a lot of respect for the things he has done in the business and what he has built. I try to convey that.

What’s your favorite dish to make with your dad?
Porchetta. For special occasions my father will make a whole roast pig. It’s a tradition from central Italy, where he was born, and I really love doing it with him. Plus it is just so good.

What advice have you picked up from him?
From a culinary point of view, he has helped me realized the opportunity we have as restaurateurs to share our culture and heritage with our customers. We can keep traditions alive and teach people about food. From a business point of view, he has instilled in me the importance of being involved in the community and giving back.