Connect
To Top

Life & Work with Massimo Zaretti

Today we’d like to introduce you to Massimo Zaretti.  

Hi Massimo, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
‘A good restaurant is a recipe of three ingredients. Good food, good service, and good atmosphere. But the KEY is that these three ingredients are balanced and work harmoniously hand in hand’ 

Originally from Rome, moved to Las Vegas when I was 13. My father owned restaurants in the US for about 40 years. Started at 13 working in my father’s restaurant. At 18 I went to work in Mandalay Bay casino for a fine-dining French restaurant called Fleur de Lys, by Hubert Keller, for 3 years. Then I was off to Sardinia, Italy working as a food and beverage manager for a 5-star world-leading resort called Forte Village. After a year, I was off to Bangkok, Thailand to help open the new St. Regis as the Restaurant General Manager of their new Italian restaurant. After two years, I was off to Singapore as the Operations Manager of F&B for the Grand Hyatt. Another two years later, was off to Tokyo as the Director of Food and Beverage for the Hilton. After some family complications (mom passed away), I left Asia and after some mourning, was off to San Francisco to work with the Daniel Patterson Group and then worked 2 years as Restaurant General Manager at the Hotel Del Coronado. 

After more than 15 years in corporate food and beverage, I decided it was time to try to open my own place. My family and I frequently visited Ensenada since our time in Las Vegas, and it seemed to be a better opportunity at the time as opposed to opening in the US. In Ensenada, I saw less overhead, less competition, and an up-and-coming area with a Mediterranean climate and a plethora of fresh local products. So, without any partners, and with my father’s consultations, I opened Il Massimo 4 years ago at the age of 31. Fast forward, and we are now the #1 Italian restaurant in the city, one of the top 10 restaurants overall, and have also achieved TripAdvisor’s Traveler’s Choice award. 

I believe what sets us apart is our fresh look at Italian cuisine. We don’t have many of the ‘commercial’ items like Fettuccine Alfredo, Lasagna, and Pizza, but instead, try to elevate the cuisine by using a combination of local ingredients with imported Italian products to maintain authenticity and demonstrate the diversity and variety of dishes Italy has to offer and to do it in an original way. We make everything in-house, from all of the pasta to all of our popular desserts and we focus on using the best ingredients we can find. Because Italian cuisine is based on simplicity, using the best quality ingredients is 80% of the work! If I had to pick a region, I would say our cuisine mostly reflects Southern Italy. Having a similar Mediterranean climate to Ensenada, we take advantage by offering a good selection of seafood-based dishes as well as using lighter, fresher ingredients such as organic basil, arugula, baby vegetables, and heirloom tomatoes. However, we definitely have something for everyone’s palate, from seafood dishes to hearty slow-braised meats. 

Another objective of ours, which comes from my background, and separates us, is the message that ‘we are not in the food industry, we are in the hospitality industry.’ It’s about how you make people feel that’s important. It’s about creating memorable, lasting experiences for guests and we always strive to achieve that by continuously exceeding guest expectations and by providing attentive and friendly service focusing on creating positive relationships 

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
Where to begin! haha 

For starters, opening a restaurant by yourself is extremely challenging because for the first 3.5 years I was the front and back of the house manager, training the cooks, training the service staff, doing ALL the restaurant shopping every morning, menus, finances, etc. A one-man show trying to put all the pieces of an intricate puzzle together. 

Ensenada is still quite underdeveloped, meaning there isn’t an abundance of international experience or high qualifications, therefore it makes it VERY challenging to find talent, whether that be finding qualified staff to finding a qualified plumber or repairman to fix mechanical issues. If you’re hood extractor stops working, it is almost impossible to find the qualified assistance needed. None of my cooks had any idea about Italian food before working at Il Massimo, and now they make pasta better than I! 

I also believe that Ensenada is growing faster than the city’s infrastructure can handle, therefore we have many challenges such as not enough parking, a lot of traffic because all the side roads are filled with potholes, water, and electric shortages, and a lot of abandoned buildings which have enormous potential to improve the city’s dining options, but are in such bad shape that you either can’t find who owns the properties or the amount of capital needed just to renovate would be so astronomical that the buildings just stay abandoned. 

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I am most proud of the path I have taken to become who I am today. Everything happens for a reason and every experience I’ve had has shaped me and my restaurant into what it is today. I feel very fortunate that I had the opportunity to work in some of the best hotels in the world, with some incredible talent around me. One of my goals is to teach everything that I’ve learned to my team so that they can also learn and improve in this industry. 

I think what sets me apart is my strong passion for bringing back the beauty, art, and warmth of what a restaurant should entail. We’ve seen a dramatic reduction in interest from people wanting to get into the restaurant business and most of it is due to poor work environments. I’m in the restaurant 90% of the time whether creating relationships with my guests or making sure my team has all the tools necessary to do a great job. 

My passion, drive, imagination, and most importantly positive attitude are what sets me apart as well as the culture of the restaurant. 

So, before we go, how can our readers or others connect or collaborate with you? How can they support you?
I think Instagram/Facebook is the best representation of what we are doing 

@ilmassimoensenada 

We also have a website in both English and Spanish 

www.ilmassimoensenada.com 

I tend to be quite active and responsive on social media so my DMs are always open! 

Pricing:

  • Appetizers $8 – $10
  • Pastas $11 – $16
  • Main Courses $12 – $23
  • Desserts $6

Contact Info:

Suggest a Story: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

More in Local Stories