Teamwork Makes the Dream Work at Jon & Vinny’s
It’s been 20 years since Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo met each other on the first day of culinary classes inside the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. The two have been inseparable ever since.
The pair opened a catering company and several Los Angeles area restaurants, including their first, Animal, more than a decade ago, Son of a Gun in 2011, and Jon & Vinny’s in 2015. A second outpost of Jon & Vinny’s opened this past January.
The duo share two major culinary awards: 2009 Food & Wine Best New Chef and 2016 James Beard Best Chef: West. In the early days, Shook and Dotolo even co-authored a book (Two Dudes, One Pan) and starred in a short-lived Food Network show (2 Dudes Catering).
Culinary duos come and go, but Dotolo and Shook have proven that friends can be successful in business when they balance each other out. “I think No. 1 is that we have the same goals,” Dotolo says. “We may take different paths to get to the goal, but by being individuals with the same goal, it really moves us forward.”
Growing with the team
Over the years, Shook says, they’ve learned to lean on the people on their team—a group composed of hundreds of people under the Joint Venture Restaurant Group. “When our partnership first started, it was just us, and we did everything. Now, our team is really part of the reason we’re at where we’re at now,” Shook says. “There’s a group of people who are really professional, and they’re providing information for Vinny and I that helps steer the ship.”
Not only does the team help Dotolo and Shook do more work together, but they’re the driving force behind why the duo continues to open new restaurants. “There are guys who have been with the company for five or 10 years,” Shook says. “They’re maturing, and we have to mature their job; you have to be able to keep growing the organization.”
Pizzeria meets diner
Part of that growth includes the opening of new restaurants that help the team mature in their careers. Jon & Vinny’s, an approachable, all-day pizzeria, opened its Fairfax location in 2015, and a second location debuted in Brentwood earlier this year.
Interestingly, before opening Animal, Shook says that he and Dotolo thought a pizzeria would be the first restaurant they opened. “When Vinny and I first started cooking together, I think Italian was a food we thought we would make,” Shook says. “But, at the time Animal started, we didn’t feel, personally or professionally, that doing Italian food would set us apart.”
Dotolo agrees that Jon & Vinny’s would have been a lot different if they opened it in 2008 instead of Animal. “I think you accumulate all of the things you learn,” Dotolo says. “We had learned so much from previous restaurants, it allowed us to build Jon & Vinny’s the way we did.”
“We wanted Jon & Vinny’s to be an all-day restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner; it’s like a pizzeria slash Italian-American diner,” Dotolo says. “We love the breakfast culture in L.A., so we combined that with an old-school Italian restaurant with pizza, pasta, veal cutlets, and chicken parmesan.”
The breakfast menu is expansive at Jon & Vinny’s, offering six different pizzas (including a breakfast pizza with egg, potato and bacon); pancakes; porridge; avocado toast; spaghetti and pastries. Lunch and dinner highlights include five types of bruschetta; burrata salad; a dozen pizzas; meatballs; a wide variety of pastas; chicken cutlet and nearly 20 desserts to choose from.
Both locations of the pizzeria have a wine store on site called Helen’s Wines, owned and operated by long-time Joint Venture beverage director and Jon & Vinny’s partner Helen Johannesen. “A lot of people use Helen’s as their neighborhood wine shop,” Shook says. “Helen also has a wine club where customers can sign up to get deliveries to their house.”
Wine and pizza classes are also offered at Jon & Vinny’s, by appointment, with pizza classes held out back near the mobile pizza ovens and wine classes taking place inside Helen’s Wines loft.
Having Jon & Vinny’s open all day, as opposed to dinner only, has given Shook and Dotolo an opportunity to see how consumers use restaurants as a public space, Dotolo says. “People come in and have a coffee and a bombolone (Italian filled doughnut) for breakfast, or a pasta by themselves for lunch at the counter before going back to work,” says Dotolo. “Others may come in for a birthday celebration and drink three bottles of wine with two pizzas, four pastas, salad and dessert to really get the full experience.”
Naming the pizzeria after themselves was not a decision they took lightly, Shook says, who adds the original name of the restaurant was Cutlet. “We were really hesitant about naming the restaurant after ourselves,” he says. “The real reason we named it Jon & Vinny’s was because, in the Fairfax location, there are two legendary family businesses nearby—Canter’s Deli and Schwartz Bakery,” Shook says. “So, it just felt right to call it Jon & Vinny’s. What’s funny is, most people don’t even know who we are.”
Shook says that Jon & Vinny’s brings in a diverse demographic, more so than Animal or Son of a Gun. He thinks it may have something to do with the pizza and pasta. “It’s amazing; we really get a range of people,” Shook says. “It feels really good as a chef and an operator to have so many people of so many ethnicities, financial brackets, ages and walks of life coming together in one restaurant to enjoy the food.”