TYRE — Three leaders working in del Lago Resort & Casino’s vast food and beverage operations have at least one thing in common:
They started their careers at the bottom.
For Portico by Fabio Viviani executive chef Don Agate, a native of Cortland, it was in the kitchen as a dishwasher at the Glen Haven Restaurant on the south end of Skaneateles Lake.
For Portico food and beverage supervisor and sommelier Kurtis VonBergen, it was dishwashing at a local pizzeria.
Those first jobs sparked their interest in pursuing careers in food and hospitality.
For Kristen Guzzo of Auburn, a food and beverage supervisor for the del Lago performing venue The Vine, as well as the casino, it was a clinic at Auburn Community Hospital where she got her start. She eventually worked herself up to a supervisory role.
All three are excited to see the doors of the casino and resort open Wednesday so that they can begin providing what they believe will be del Lago’s superior food, beverages and service. Here’s a look at the three:
Country legend Johnny Cash sang, “I’ve been everywhere, man.” Agate could say the same.
He has worked at restaurants from central New York to Manhattan and around the country. He’s even had a couple restaurant gigs outside of the States.
With a culinary arts degree from Johnson & Wales, Agate admits that it makes for a pretty long résumé — but each stop helped develop his culinary skills.
“When you start out, you’re trying to gain experience,” Agate said. “I worked with as many great chefs as I could, so I bounced around a lot. ”
Agate eventually moved up the ranks, with positions at elite restaurants nationwide. One of those stops was Fort Worth, Texas, where, as executive chef of Eddie V’s Restaurants Inc., he was named “Top Chef” by Fort Worth Magazine, among other individual and restaurant honors.
He’s also worked in the Bahamas at Club Med on the French-speaking Salvador Island, where he met his Quebec-born wife.
Another stint was as culinary director for Eberhardt LLC, overseeing operations for restaurants including the Gould Hotel in Seneca Falls and Mandana Inn in Skaneateles.
Recent stops included head chef at the venerable Springside Inn and Oak & Vine Restaurant near Auburn.
Now he’s at Portico, under the auspices of celebrity chef Fabio Viviani — and he’s excited about providing diners with an unforgettable experience.
One of Portico’s specialties will be steak, something Agate has done in several stops.
“I get meat,” proclaimed Agate, who, as part of his preparation for taking the executive chef job at Portico, underwent a 10-day training in California at another Viviani restaurant, Café Firenze.
The goal, said Agate, is to make the meal memorable.
“You want to be able to deliver with that price tag,” he said, noting that dry-aged steaks and some unique wood-fire grilling gadgets will be featured at Portico. “I want diners to say, ‘That’s the best $70 I’ve every spent on a steak.’”
Dry-aged meat has a nutty flavor and is incredibly tender, he explained, adding that they also will feature wet-aged cuts as well.
Portico, predicted Agate, will be a level of steakhouse more likely seen in Manhattan or Chicago.
And yes, you’ll also find handmade pastas on the menu as well.
To say that Guzzo has a lot of education would be an understatement.
The Auburn native has a doctorate in health and clinical psychology from Walden University as well as a master’s in general psychology. She has dual degrees (psychology and public justice) from SUNY Oswego and a two-year degree from Alfred State College of Technology in human services.
She went to Rochester some years back to pursue a career in mental health or teaching on the idea of “bigger city, more opportunities. That’s not really the case.”
As to her new career as a food and beverage supervisor at del Lago? Guzzo’s experience as a supervisor at Auburn Community Hospital played into that, as well as her experience as a bartender in Auburn and as staff member of nearby Montezuma Winery. She also was an independent contractor working with Spirited Promotions, which offers wine and spirit samplings and many other promotional events for the industry.
Guzzo wasn’t expecting the supervisory role at del Lago — at least not right off the bat.
“I applied for five or six jobs here,” she said, including bartender.
Guzzo figured the bartending job would get her foot in the door. Little did she know that she was actually interviewing for a Vine/casino food and beverage supervisor job.
The interviewer saw the Ph.d. on her résumé, left, came back and said, “You’re hired.”
Those working under Guzzo and the other supervisors will operate three service bars for the casino, as well as Centrifico, a bar and lounge area in the center of the gaming floor. Servers will even get drinks for folks so that they don’t have to leave the slots.
The Vine entertainment center features a bar and restaurant as well.
Guzzo is one of nine supervisors for the service bars and Centrifico. In all, they have 40-50 servers and 45-50 bartenders ready to roll. Training continues right up until the eve of del Lago’s Wednesday opening.
She’s excited to embark on her new career, even if it’s not the path she charted through her schooling.
“It’s definitely different,” she said. “I’m excited for it. It’s a new journey. ”
Kurtis Von Bergen
While Guzzo’s education might have suggested a different career track, VonBergen is doing what he set out to do: Work in the hospitality industry.
He studied resort management at Monroe Community College and has worked at a number of restaurant and hotel jobs in the region.
After his first job at a local pizzeria, he spent five years at the former ZuZu Café in Seneca Falls, where he worked his way up to supervisor. He served as a food and beverage manager at the Doubletree By Hilton, the former Holidome on Jefferson Road in Henrietta.
He also did a number of other stints in the business, including assistant general manager of the Gould Hotel in Seneca Falls and front-of-house manager at Café XIX. He most recently served in a non-hospitality job as a bookkeeper at Generations Agency, an insurance group with several locations in the region, including Seneca Falls and Geneva.
At Portico, VonBergen will be supervising the front-end staff — servers, hostesses and bartenders.
The job is a big one. VonBergen said Portico can seat 240 diners. He’ll oversee 43 team members whose sole goal is ensuring all of the restaurant’s diners have an exceptional experience, he said.
VonBergen also will serve as the restaurant’s sommelier.
“I’ll be working with the (Portico) wine list and probably the beer list to make sure we’ve got the good stuff,” he said.
The Seneca Falls native is thrilled to work with a restaurant operation of such stature and so close to home. As for his staff, said VonBergen, the goal is nothing less than “100 percent perfect.”