Sizzling(Buchanans, Book 3)(67) by Susan Mallery
“BERNARDO IS A GOOD MAN,” Mama Giuseppe said as she ladled more pasta sauce onto Dani’s plate. “His father started the restaurant nearly fifty years ago. We were so young then, with foolish dreams.”
The tiny woman, dressed all in black glanced around the gleaming restaurant kitchen. “Maybe not so foolish.” She looked back at Dani’s plate. “Eat. Eat!”
Dani cheerfully tasted another forkful of the perfect pasta. The sauce was delicious enough to make her wonder how rude it would be to lick the plate when she was finished. But as she hadn’t technically started her interview, she’d probably better remember her table manners.
She’d arrived at three and had immediately been ushered into the kitchen. The prep chefs were hard at work, yelling and insulting each other in Italian. At least she assumed it was Italian. But judging from their expressions and the laughter, she had a good idea what they were saying. Some things about the back of a restaurant were all the same.
Although she’d met Bernardo, the owner of Bella Roma, he’d been called away to take a phone call, leaving Dani alone with his mother. As Mama Giuseppe had been offering incredible food, Dani wasn’t complaining.
“I’ve asked around,” Mama said. “I know you are a Buchanan, like the restaurants. Your grandmother, she’s not a nice woman.”
Dani wasn’t sure what to say to that. “Gloria can be a challenge,” she admitted.
Mama sniffed. “Is that what we call it? Still, you didn’t pick her for family. What can you do? I have four boys. Four. God was good to us. And of the four, only Bernardo wants to go in the family business. One is enough, right? So now my grandchildren are growing up. This one wants to be a lawyer, that one a doctor. Nicholas wants to do hair.” She shook her head. “A man who wants to do hair. But he’s family, so I love him. The restaurant? Not so much. Alicia, she loved working here, but now she’s moving to New York to get married. What? We can’t have a wedding in Seattle?”
Mama sighed. “What can you do?” She looked at Dani. “You’re not married?”
“Ah, no. I was. My husband and I…He, ah—”
Mama Giuseppe nodded. “I understand. Some men are good men. Some, not so good. My Bernardo, he’s a good man. His wife died.” She paused, considering. “You’re a little young for him. Too bad.”
Dani nearly choked on her pasta. Bernie, as he’d asked her to call him, had to be close to fifty.
Just then the man in question hurried into the room.
“Sorry about that,” he told Dani. “My daughter’s getting married in a month. We’re averaging about one crisis every four hours. Has my mother been torturing you?”
Dani glanced at her empty plate. “Not at all. She’s been keeping me well fed. I love everything here.”
“A girl who eats,” Mama said. “Good.”
Bernie sighed. “I’m going to take Dani to my office, Mama. We’re going to talk business. You’ll want to leave us alone for a while.”
“I’m an old woman. What do I know about business? I wouldn’t want to get in the way of something important. Did I start this place with your father? Did I work all hours of the day while raising four children?”
“Ignore her,” Bernie murmured as they left the kitchen and headed down a rear hall. “She can be dramatic.”
“I adore her,” Dani said and meant it.
“If you’re not careful, she’ll run your life.”
Dani figured she wasn’t doing such a great job of it herself, so maybe someone being in charge would be good.
They sat in Bernie’s crowded office. He looked at the stack of papers and files lying on his desk and groaned. “I’ve got to get this organized,” he said. “I never have the time. That’s why we’re hiring a manager. My daughter, Alicia, was working here, but she’s moved to New York to be with her fiancé. I was hoping one of the other kids or one of my cousins would be interested, but they’re not. They love to eat here, of course, but the work? Not so much.”
He sounded a lot like his mother, Dani thought, holding in a grin. She was impressed the two of them could work together day after day and not kill each other.
“We’re a close staff,” he said. “Most of my servers have worked here for years. Over half the clients are regulars. You know what that means?”
Dani knew he wasn’t just making conversation. The interview had officially begun.
“Regulars are a steady cash flow, so you want to keep them happy,” she said easily. “They like what they like. Some resist change. They have higher expectations. They want to be remembered and treated as special because they’re giving something money can’t buy—loyalty.”
“Exactly.” He sounded pleased. “For a while our customers were mostly older family and retirees. Aging. Then the neighborhood began to change. Suddenly we’re hip. Or in. I can’t keep up with the right term. Which means I’m neither, right?”
Dani smiled at him. He was terrific. For a second she wanted to agree with Mama Giuseppe—it’s too bad that Bernie wasn’t closer to her age.
“So now we’re getting a younger crowd. I thought they’d clash with our regulars, but they don’t. It’s nice to see newlyweds and college kids around.”
He passed her a menu. “We’re traditional here. Mama sees to that. Our head chef answers to her. Nick has been here ten years and when he and Mama start screaming at each other, it’s better to duck and run.” He chuckled. “Lucky for you, they argue in Italian, so you’ll miss most of it.”
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