Dana Troese: ‘Never Looked Back as Far as Cooking’
(Photos by: Prince Brooks of Prince Brooks Photography)
“As far as teaching me, my mom was not an exceptionally good cook,” he told exploreClarion.com. “My dad had some grandiose ideas. My uncle Vic thought you couldn’t make any money in food. He was kind of my mentor and would always say: ‘You can’t make money in the food business, you make money in the bar.’ That’s the first words I hear back in the 80s.”
Troese said he was working the management side of a restaurant in Florida in the 80s when he was thrust into the role.
“One day I fired three of my line cooks for smoking pot behind the building. The general manager is like: ‘You can’t fire the whole crew.’….’Well, they were smoking pot behind the building,’ and he said: ‘How do you think they get through the shift?’….I’m sorry, that’s not how we do it where I’m from. (And), that’s when my cooking career started.”
After that, Troese “never looked back as far as cooking.”
He has always been around food.
“We owned The Loomis,” said Troese. “My parents and uncles bought it in 1943. The whole restaurant thing was the center of all our lives. Every Christmas, every Easter, every Thanksgiving, we would go and meet all our relatives there and hang out.”
Daddy’s came about in the late 2000s, but Troese explained he has “been building restaurants” in his imagination since he began to cook.
“I worked at Chi-Chi’s which was a huge Mexican restaurant back in the 80s,” he said. “Did four, five million a year. 100 employees. Impersonal. Those places that are big tend to be impersonal, but I don’t think I was really looking for that when I built this place.”
Troese always wanted a small hot-dog shop in town with a dinner-like feel and left The Loomis in 2008 to found Daddy’s. He was followed by his son Darren a year later.
In the beginning, Daddy’s had a very different menu than what it does today.
“In the old days, we had hot dogs, Primanti Bros. sandwiches, french fries, and cheesesteaks. The Primanti thing never took off, but I was sure it would. Same with the hot dogs. We’ve always had a good product, but we don’t really sell them,” Troese said.
In 2009, Troese said he experimented opening late night but said it was too much for the restaurant to handle.
“It was just freaking mayhem,” he exclaimed. “There’d be a line from 12 to three then my attorney said, ‘Somebody’s going to get hurt you better shut that down.'”
Around this time, Daddy’s began catering, which Troese credits with being one of the best decisions they made.
“I had a sign made that said ‘We Cater All Events’ and put it in the window, cost me twenty bucks,” he said. “I think I’m the biggest caterer in the area now. I don’t know if that’s true, but we do almost 300 jobs a year.”
Along with catering, Troese said takeout, especially for comfort foods like his pho. He said this began amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Darren and I decided we were going to lay everybody off,” he said. “It didn’t seem right to expose you to COVID. So we laid everybody off, that was on Thursday. We closed on Friday. I was up here on Saturday, and Darren calls me. ‘I got to cook something and sell something,’ I said. I had no idea what I was going to do.”
They created a small takeout menu with the food they had on hand, and Troese called it “hugely successful.”
“Everything was calling in, pay for over the phone. The food was sitting there when you got here. We didn’t even see you. There was something really happening here,” he said.
Along with regular customers who come and buy burgers, specialty takeout and catering are Daddy’s three main businesses.
“My dad would say you have to keep finding a way to use your facilities,” said Troese. “It works pretty slick.”
Though inflation has hit many businesses, especially restaurants hard as food prices rise, Troese said Daddy’s built-in advantage is their changing menu.
While they keep at least two hamburgers and a fish dish on their specials menu, they regularly rotate and try new things.
“If pork is cheap, we’re selling pork if filet mignon is expensive,” said Troese. “Darren is a master of menuing. He’s really good.”
It seems as if Daddy’s can do no wrong.
“There’s (a) tremendous response with just about anything we put out that is different,” said Troese.
He explained he likes cooking because it is “predictable.”
“I think the real cooking thing comes from – if you look at the Italian side, restaurant-wise – it’s an extension of your home,” Troese remarked. “So, if you’re feeding somebody, you have a personal vested interest in the fact that you want people to enjoy it, and you want to know whether it’s something you can do better.”
Young people, Troese said, might not understand the value of a home-cooked meal and the work it takes to make good food.
“I think one of the things people don’t know is how far we go to bring you a product. The time it takes,” he said.
Troese dropped hints he could be looking to expand.
“It might be a good time to buy another place,” he said. “God knows we need it.”
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