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Bernini's Bistro: Mix in a healthy dose of 'nice' to go with the food

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Hamdi Gumustekin is the owner of Bernini's Bistro La Jolla.

Q: When did Bernini's open? How did you get started?

A: My wife and I opened Bernini's 12 years ago after moving from Vancouver, B.C., where we owned two restaurants. We got tired of the rain and decided to move to sunny San Diego; we haven't regretted it for a moment.

Our first restaurant in Vancouver was a labor of love since we certainly didn't have the money. That was 20 years ago. I was full of ideas and energy and wanted to be my own boss. We borrowed $20,000 and stretched it as far as it could go. Doing everything ourselves, we really did start from scratch. About two years afterward, we opened a pizzeria down the street and started to serve the first gourmet pizza in the area.

Q: What inspires your cuisine?

A: An empty stomach! We love food and enjoy trying all cuisines. We get ideas from all different areas and like experimenting. We make sure that we taste all new recipes on a full stomach and if we like it, then it goes on the menu.

Q: What do customers appreciate the most about Bernini's?

A: We get more compliments about our staff than anything else. For every server position that opens up, we get approximately 150 applications, interview 10 to 15 people, and hire one.

We just look for very nice people; people who are sincere, genuine, kind and have a great heart. It's easy to teach nice people how to work in a restaurant but you can't teach people to have a nice personality.

Q: Your staff has a noticeable international flair. What does this add to the Bernini's experience?

A: We currently have the most international crew in the history of the restaurant, with staff from Poland, Hawaii, Turkey, Holland, Philippines, Ukraine, Germany, and Mexico. This makes for great conversation and storytelling.

It's wonderful to share ideas and thoughts among the crew. Routinely our staff will start speaking to our customers in their native tongue. In turn, customers say that they feel that they are in Europe when they are at Bernini's.

Q: You're in the heart of La Jolla with a local clientele. Does this present any special challenges or opportunities?

A: It creates many opportunities for us. Over three-quarters of our guests are regulars. Because they often visit us on a weekly basis, we get the opportunity to bond and build personal relationships with them. We get to know them, their families, their recent travels and so on. This is certainly the most enjoyable part of our job.

Q: You're successful where you are. Do you have any plans to expand?

A: I've got no choice but to expand with the way my wife shops. But seriously, I am very happy where we are right now but will always look at opportunities as they come.

Q: What advice would you give someone entering the business?

A: Sometimes a restaurant takes off right away, but you can't always expect that. The most important thing is to make sure that you have enough money put aside to carry you for at least one year until your business is able to take care of itself.

I think of the restaurant as a little child. You don't bring a child into the world and expect great things from him. You have to give, nurture and take care of that child for a long time before he becomes independent and becomes capable of doing wonderful things. A restaurant is the same; you need to nurture it and take care of it financially before it starts to make money.

Connect with Gumustekin at berninisbistro@aol.com.


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