While waiting for customers to start trickling in, he and the other kitchen staff do prep, like peeling carrots. Fass said he usually arrives between 9 and 10 a.m. to prepare for the day, while the rest of the staff arrive at 11 a.m., 30 minutes before lunch starts.
The house tomato sauce, which is made without garlic because many customers prefer, for one reason or another, no garlic, warms on the stove before being poured over a chicken parmesan dish. Fass said they go through a couple of gallons of sauce each day.
A dish with penne pasta and mushrooms waits on the counter for delivery. Fass prides the restaurant on making dishes to order, allowing more choices for vegans, vegetarians and others with alternative diets.
When Fass finished his undergraduate years at the University of Florida in 1998, he thought he wanted to be in entertainment law. But after his first year of law school, he was pretty sure he didn’t want to practice law at all.
He stuck with it because he saw the value of a law degree, but he wasn’t sure how he would put it to use.
Having played the saxophone for many years, for local bands and for the UF marching, basketball and jazz bands, Fass accepted a job playing saxophone on a Carnival cruise ship after he graduated.
And he had enough of that after the first month, he said.
Cruising exposed him to a variety of foods and restaurants, reheating an interest in food that had been inspired by his uncle, a chef, and his mom, who was “definitely a celebrity chef in my eyes.”
What really piqued his interest was when he visited his sister in Vermont and she suggested they tour the New England Culinary Institute. He enrolled a few months later.
The NECI is a small school in Montpelier, Vt. It was a “boot camp for chefs,” Fass said. While there, he did a lot of training with Italian food, and much of his subsequent working experience was with Italian food, too.
When Fass returned to Gainesville in 2007, he began looking for a location to start a restaurant. He was considering the space that is now filled by Boca Fiesta, but Amelia’s Restaurant really captured his interest. While he’s not Italian by birth, owning an Italian restaurant was “sort of half the plan,” he said, because he loves and understands the food.
“This was the only decision for me,” Fass said.
With its history, customer base and fresh Italian food, he felt it was the place to put his culinary and business skills to the test.
There was just one problem: the restaurant wasn’t for sale.So he spoke to the owner and asked him to consider selling it. The owner never told Fass what convinced him, but in September 2007, Fass took over.
Five years later, he feels settled into the restaurant and confident about moving forward.
“It’s been great,” he said. “Nobody told me about the economic turmoil that would happen… But we made it through that.”
Fass credits his law training for helping him to keep things running smoothly.
He did not change the menu much when he took over at Amelia’s. He found he was pleased with the menu’s offerings, which allowed him to make use of quality and seasonal ingredients. He removed some low-selling items, such as the calf liver, and began offering new dishes, including lobster ravioli and duck.
It takes more than being a chef to successfully operate a restaurant.
“Cooking is the easy part,” Fass said.
Being a restaurateur, dealing with the unexpected and handling paperwork is the hard part – and that’s where his law-school training comes in handy. He said he developed several useful skills in law school, such as analytical thinking, understanding contract language, problem-solving, being persuasive and multi-tasking.
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