It would be a stretch to say the Freddura family invented calamari. However, as the proprietors of the Daily Catch, Boston’s pre-eminent seafood restaurant, they are at least partly responsible for solidifying its place as a staple appetiser in North American restaurants.
“My family helped get calamari in Webster’s dictionary,” explains Dominic Freddura. “Before it was squid, and we said, “This is the Italian word for squid.”
Dominic’s father, Paul, was looking to make a splash in the restaurant industry when he opened the Daily Catch in 1973. Paul was born and raised in the North End and grew up eating his mother’s seafood-centric Sicilian cuisine, including fried calamari. At the time, the dish was popular in Europe and parts of Asia but was relatively unheard of in North America.
Paul learned about the seafood business from veteran fishermen at the docks and knew an opportunity when he saw one. Clams, easily the most popular catch, were exorbitantly priced, while squid was going for just 15 cents a pound. Paul decided to open the Daily Catch and place his mother’s calamari at the heart of the business.
The Family Grows Along With the Business
In the late 1970s, Paul met Maria, who came from a family of restaurateurs in New York. They married in 1983 and had seven boys: Max, Basil, Theo, Sage, Sebastian, Louis and finally, Dominic.
All of the Freddura brothers are involved in the family business. Max is a server in the original North Boston location and oversees the wine department while Basil is the head of kitchen operations and runs the RC food processing plant at the fishing pier. Theo returned from LA to manage the Seaport location where Sage is the General Manager. Louis is an Assistant General Manager while Sebastian works as a server in different locations. According to Dominic, he provides an essential value-added service.
“He’s an entertainer. When you eat at our restaurant, it’s all a show. It’s all about the experience of the food and everything that is involved with it. He gives that exceptional quality.”
As for Dominic, he recently went to Chicago where he earned an MBA in entrepreneurship. He was motivated by the current CEO of the Daily Catch – his mother.
“My mom told me, the person that’s going to take her position has to have an MBA. So I said great, I’m getting my masters as soon as possible.”
Dominic believes that his time in Chicago gave him perspective when it comes to the family business:
“I have a unique vantage point because I was able to separate myself from our daily operations in Boston by going to school in Chicago. Sometimes it can be hard to see the root causes for certain issues if you’re caught in the middle of everything. I’ve been able to step away from whatever tensions may arise and share my ideas with a fresh perspective that isn’t mired in the day to day hustle and bustle.”
For the Freddura brothers, the family business has been a part of their lives for as long as they can remember. There was no compartmentalisation of family and work – the family was always together at the Daily Catch.
“I remember getting picked up in the fish truck after school,” Dominic recalls. “My brothers and I have always had a role in the business – the Daily Catch is built on the identity of family business, and having kids in the restaurant is a big part of that.”
Dominic appreciates the example that his parents set:
“They wanted to show us the positive aspects of that life. Yes, it can be stressful and you’re working all the time, but you’re able to create something beautiful with your own hands. As a result, they were able to turn us all into leaders. Now, when we walk into a room, we have no problem stepping up and taking control.”
The Daily Catch in the 21st Century
The Daily Catch has a nostalgic appeal. The décor hasn’t changed much since it first opened 45 years ago, and the North Boston location still only seats 20 people at a time. Frequently, a line of hungry patrons extends to the sidewalk.
The Freddura family has resisted modernisation in their business operations. Up until recently, they were still writing orders on slips. They’ve only just installed a computerised point of sale system and still remain a cash-only business.
“We haven’t been pushing ourselves to be at the cutting edge by adopting these technologies early. We’ve allowed it to settle into the restaurant industry and then see what’s useful for us and how we might improve our operations,” Dominic states.
So, how does such an old-school restaurant thrive in a business environment where TripAdvisor reviews and a robust social media presence seem so important?
“We’re not too concerned about that,” Dominic explains. “Of course, we want positive reviews and we want our ratings to be as good as possible, but we’re a very old and established brand. We don’t do a lot of social media stuff, and even in the dead of winter we’ll have a line out the door from 11 am to 9 pm – we’ve just held true to our values and our recipes.”
The Future of the Daily Catch
As the Freddura family prepares to transition to the next generation of leadership, Dominic plans for the future. He knows that the past doesn’t guarantee future success in the infamously fickle restaurant industry.
“This is a big motivator for me,” he says. “I’m looking at what I can do today to make sure we’re around for another 50 years. That means always giving that consistent service, and making sure that every customer that walks through the door has a fantastic Daily Catch experience.”
Dominic points out that it’s not just the Freddura family with a next-gen presence in the restaurant – Many of the Daily Catch’s regular customers are second and third generation:
“We have lots of people who come in and say, ‘Oh, my parents would always bring me here.’ They’re now bringing their kids into our restaurant. We’re not only growing as a family ourselves, but we’re growing with other families and we appreciate being part of people’s lives.”