La Dolce Vita: Ross Runfola, Jr. ’94

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Five Medaille Alumni
December 1, 2006

When Ross Runfola, Jr. ’94 BA chose to come to Medaille, he had a family reputation to live up to. After all, his father Ross, Sr., had been one of the most well-known instructors at the College for most of its current history.

"He was going on his 20th year at the time, and it was easier than I thought because so many people enjoyed and liked my dad," Runfola explains. "He was their favorite teacher. I think if he was disliked or taught a boring subject, things might be different. There were students of his that became my friends because they wanted to get to know me as well."

While his Dad’s popularity helped smooth his transition to college, he was on his own in the classroom.

"I had my father for criminal justice," Runfola says. "It was interesting because sometimes I would talk to him as a father, and other conversations were about whether I had done my reading or worked on my paper. People thought I was going to get an easy A, but he was tougher on me by pressuring me to do all my reading."

Being close to his family, however, was one of the reasons he chose to attend Medaille.

"It strengthened my relationship with my dad because it gave us something else in common," Runfola says. "He loved Medaille and I ended up loving it as well. I had always heard how unique and special the school was, and I was able to see it myself as a student."

Today, Runfola is the proud owner of La Dolce Vita Caffe and Bistro, located at 1472 Hertel Avenue in North Buffalo. He purchased the existing restaurant a year ago, right in his North Buffalo backyard.

His most popular dishes include panini sandwiches and pizzas for lunch, and pasta concetta for dinner. One of their specialties is a dinner appetizer called sfogliatelle, which is filo dough filled with sautéed spinach, red roasted peppers and fresh mozzarella, served with a combination of pesto cream and red roasted pepper couli sauce. It can be an appetizer or a dinner and appeals to people who like vegetarian foods as well.

Runfola chalks up his interest in the restaurant to three things – childhood dreams, family, and Medaille.

"When I was young, I wanted to open an Italian restaurant," Runfola recalls. "I remember spending time on the weekends planning what I wanted my restaurant to be. When I was at Medaille, I waited tables and I managed restaurants, but I grew a little tired of it. Ten years later, I missed it and wanted to get back into it, but I didn’t have the culinary skil ls to start my own restaurant."

"To buy a restaurant that was already established, that I already loved and was in my neighborhood, made it an easy transition for me," Runfola continued. "This place had a coffee bar where you could get espresso and a pastry, plus lunch and dinner services, and the menu was in Italian – all things I wanted and thought of as kid. I also love the location in North Buffalo. There are a lot of Italian families, and I have friends that I grew up with who own businesses on Hertel as well."

Runfola’s family also played a big part in supporting his entrepreneurial spirit.

"My family is very supportive of me," Runfola says. "My dad comes in several times a week and it is always nice to see him – often a chance to catch up. This is my family’s favorite restaurant and they don’t just come here for me; this was their favorite restaurant before I became involved."

"Ross wanted to open an Italian restaurant since he was a little boy, and even knew that he wanted to have pictures of his family, especially his grandmother and grandfather throughout, as well as play a variety of Italian music in the background," says his father, Dr. Ross T. Runfola, Sr., Professor in Medaille College’s Social Sciences Department. "The decision solidified years ago when he saw the famous Italian cafés and bistros in the North Beach section of San Francisco. He was smart enough to wait until the perfect opportunity came in terms of location, ambiance, and a four-star chef. Ross has always been a hard worker and is the first Runfola in the history of the family to have expertise in business."

Medaille’s influence was also important in his professional aspirations and development.

"Medaille prepared me by teaching me how to deal with people," Runfola says. "Getting to know everybody, from students to teachers to the people working in the offices, it taught me how to relate and communicate with people. Being the SGA President helped me learn how to manage and delegate others."

Following college, Runfola spent time working in customer service as a manager of several call centers in the health care and banking industry. While these experiences helped prepare him to run a business, business ownership was a bit different.

"If you haven’t run a business before, it is a lot harder than you would imagine," Runfola explains. "I thought I could come in when I wanted to and would answer to no one. But it is sink or swim depending on my effort. In a normal job, I worked 40 hours and went home in the evening. Now I put in 70 hours a week, even working when the restaurant is closed on Sunday and Monday."

"On the positive side, though, this is something of my own, something I can say is mine," Runfola continues. "I get to make the decisions about the business plan and future. It also has allowed me to test myself, to see how far I can take it. After a fairly successful year, it has given me the confidence to consider another location in the suburbs in the next two years."

Runfola has found entrepreneurship fits him well, and that he made the right decision to open his own business.

"I want to be here running the day to day operations because I’ve always enjoyed being involved with people," Runfola says. "I am able to see my customers when they come in, to greet and seat them, to check on their meal, and to say goodbye as they are leaving. I know many of my regular customers by first name and I get satisfaction from seeing them enjoy a good meal and leaving full."

La Dolce Vita

I'm grateful for the education I've received.

The instructors were knowledgeable and welcomed class discussions, with
respect for each student's contribution. I've learned how to be a more
effective leader. My capstone class gave insight on how to combine all
the education learned to operate a business. That's when I realized how
much I had sharpened my knowledge.

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