If Gus DiMillo couldn’t own a restaurant, he would probably spend a lot of time throwing dinner parties because he believes “eating and drinking are the greatest forms of social activity known to man.” It’s a good thing, then, that he does own a restaurant – six , in fact – Acadiana, PassionFish, District Commons, Penn Commons, Burger, Tap & Shake and most recently the reopened Tenh Penh at Tysons Corner .
Washington, DC is DiMillo’s home, a city he has actively embraced, promoted, and helped to revive over the past thirty years (he’s originally from Lockport, New York). He started here as manager for Capital Management and Development Company, where, as captain at the River Club Restaurant, he met Jeff Tunks, who was the chef. In 1998, the two joined together with David Wizenberg, forming Passion Food Hospitality, LLC, and opening their first restaurant, DC Coast. It didn’t take long for the trio to expand that success into Ceiba, Acadiana, and, most recently, PassionFish, in Reston, Virginia.
DiMillo’s energy and ideas have made him indispensable not only to his own enterprises, but also to innumerable boards and committees. The RAMMY Awards of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington grew to their current stature attracting national and international attention during his leadership as Chair of that organization; he is also chair emeritus of the awards Gala, one of the city’s most glamorous – and delicious – annual fundraising events. It was DiMillo who single-handedly secured the sponsorship of Sustainable Iceland for the event. As a board member of Sustainable Iceland, he has not only been instrumental in organizing that country’s Food and Fun Festival, but has also built a strong channel of commerce between our two countries, starting in Washington with the pure and sustainable products served in his own restaurants and many of his friends’ and colleagues’ establishments, and expanding to the public by forging a relationship with Whole Foods markets.
In 2003, The Capital Restaurant and Hospitality Awards committee named Gus DiMillo the Hospitality Ambassador of the Year. Together with his partners, DiMillo is an active leader in the community by supporting many civic and charitable organizations. All three have given their time and service to the Taste of the Nation benefit for Share Our Strength, Food and Friends’ charity, the Humane Society, the Smithsonian Institution, and the National Zoo’s Zoofari (of which DiMillo is a board member,) to name a few. Passion Food Hospitality was honored for its role in making downtown Washington vibrant, inviting, and beautiful with a 2004 Momentum Award from the Downtown Business Improvement District; and, in January 2005, they were named Restaurateurs of the Year by Washingtonian Magazine. 2010 brings DiMillo a membership on the board of the celebrated D.C. Jazz Festival. This was music to DiMillo’s ears, as he is an avid jazz aficionado.
DiMillo’s care for the city’s past, present, and future is evident in his care in choosing the locations of the Passion Food restaurants: two are located in historic buildings within Washington’s central Penn Quarter. DC Coast, a pioneering business largely credited with reviving its languishing Franklin Square neighborhood, occupies the ground floor of The Tower Building, the city’s first commercial Art Deco building. Ceiba anchors the historic Colorado Building, an important Beaux-Arts structure on G Street. DiMillo is a current member of the Downtown Business Improvement Development (BID) group and a former member of its Center City task force. He is also a long-time member of Washington’s Penn Quarter board; the acting treasurer on the Executive Board of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington; a Destination DC board member; and a member of the Arlington and Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce. DiMillo is becoming something of a Washington institution, himself: in March 2009, he was featured in The Washington Post’s “Restaurant Mogul” series, profiling a day in the lives of top restaurateurs.
DiMillo got his start in the restaurant business like most teenagers do – washing dishes and making sandwiches in a coffee shop to make money for college.
“The first time I worked the counter at the coffee shop and made someone a sandwich, and they came in the following day and said, ‘I loved that sandwich…can you make me the same thing today?’ I was hooked,” he recalls. “It is my passion to interact with people directly and to satisfy them and make them very happy. You don’t often get that when you sit behind a desk in an office. To this day, Gus DiMillo still loves walking in the door of one of his restaurants and seeing 100 happy faces eating, drinking, laughing, and experiencing his passion. “I live my business,” notes DiMillo. “I do all the conceptualization, development, design, marketing…I’m a real stickler for details.”
It’s not difficult to tell that DiMillo is embodied in the beautiful details and joyous atmosphere of each and every one of his restaurants. What is not always so evident is his hard work and guiding hand behind the success of their respective Washington neighborhoods.