By Annika Tomlin
After leaving the Marine Corps, Dom Ruggiero went to the now-defunct Scottsdale Le Cordon Bleu and has been cooking since then.
“I was working at Zinc Bistro in Kierland Commons, and that is where I met my partner Charles (Barber),” Ruggiero says. “He was running the bar there for a long time. Over the years learning the industry, working different restaurants and trying to perfect my craft, I finally felt it was time for me to step out and do my own thing, and Charles felt the same.”
The friends came together to start their own restaurant—Hush Public House, which opened in February 2019. The name came from a family member telling the owners to keep their plans of opening a restaurant on the downlow.
“Charles and I both had jobs that we were working at, so we had to keep it under wraps for a little bit,” Ruggiero says. “Charles’ mom was like, ‘You guys need to keep it on the hush so you don’t get fired,’ and it just kind of stuck.
“We threw ‘public house’ on there because we wanted it to be a cool neighborhood bar and restaurant where you can come to a couple nights a week and didn’t have to be fancy or anything.”
The duo had to close the restaurant twice due to COVID-19—the week of March 13 and in early July, during the protests after George Floyd’s death. They reopened October 1 and business has been good, according to Ruggiero.
“Nights when there was a debate or an election was on, it was a ghost town because people were glued to their TVs, but we have high hopes that things are turning around and we’re on the other end of it hopefully—fingers crossed,” Ruggiero says.
Prior to the July shutdown, the duo acquired the space next to their restaurant and expanded their once 40-seat space to include a new dining area, larger kitchen and office space.
“There’s a lot more kitchen space and we have an office now, which is just crazy,” Ruggiero says.
“We have a staff bathroom, like we made it. It’s been helpful to have that extra space with the minimum-capacity mandates that we have to be able to spread the guests out. It’s been very helpful, but I’m looking forward to when all of that is over and we can really see what the space can do with this many seats.”
Some of the original menu items that have stood the test of time during the pandemic are the crab hush puppies with sweet corn remoulade and scallions ($16) and the date cake with bourbon toffee sauce and vanilla gelato ($10). Temporarily removed from the menu were the grilled oysters with cutino sauce butter and grana Padano ($18), until Hush regulars demanded they return. Ruggiero ordered a case the next day.
“(One of the original items) since day one that people would freak out if I took off (is) definitely the oxtail,” Ruggiero says. “It’s my take on an Italian beef sandwich from Chicago. One of my first cooking jobs I had was at Taste of Chicago. We elevated it and did it with braised oxtail and brioche from Noble (Bread).”
Ruggiero’s favorite part about being a restaurant owner is the “freedom to do as he sees fit.”
“I get to be as creative or not as creative as I want and change the menu any day or choose to,” Ruggiero says. “As a chef, it’s probably watching the growth of my cooks and seeing them progress in their careers and move on to bigger and better things and or get promoted here.”
The hardest part of being owner and chef is “everything else,” he adds.
“Once you get to be a chef, people always ask, ‘Do you still like cooking?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, because I don’t cook anymore,’” Ruggiero says. “I’m a glorified accountant, plumber, electrician and janitor—you are constantly putting out fires.
“But it’s ever-changing, and that’s why I like this industry. It never gets stale, so it’s fun.”
Hush is “very seasonal,” according to Ruggiero, and they use local products, including beer, to promote others.
“We have a lot of friends in the industry who have been doing it for a long time,” Ruggiero says. “So, anytime we can help promote or do things with them or collaborate, we do.
“We’re just trying to be a cool neighborhood spot that people can come to and hang out and have a good time. It’s not pretentious, but I think the food speaks for itself along with the wine list, the cocktails, everything. It’s just what we’ve been working for our whole career and then finally being able to do it.” ν
Hush Public House
14202 N. Scottsdale Road, Suite 167, Scottsdale