By Alex Gallagher
When guests shake chef Dom Ruggiero’s hand, the tattoos of “home” and “made” on his fingers are evident.
Those words reflect Ruggiero’s credo.
The Scottsdale native and former Marine, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in 2008, had been a veteran of the culinary scene for over a decade, learning how to run restaurants, before he decided to open his own in 2019.
He has two concepts running and plans to open a third this November.
Hush Public House
During his various jobs and education under esteemed chefs, Ruggiero says the biggest lesson he learned was to always focus on honing his craft.
“Everybody always told me ‘learn your craft,’” Ruggiero says. “It was all those years of working for those great chefs that I was able to fine-tune my craft and really learn how to cook.
“And then from there, I started learning how to do profit and loss statements and learned how to run the business.”
With his craft honed by over a decade in the industry, Ruggiero opened Hush Public House in February 2019 — a restaurant he describes as a high-end version of The Original Beef of Chicagoland, the name of the fictitious restaurant featured in the comedy-drama series “The Bear.”
“We set out to open a cool little neighborhood restaurant and a place that I’d like to eat out at myself,” Ruggiero says.
Decorated by white walls, a wood top bar and posh seating, the seemingly small space, located in a strip mall near a Goodwill, offers an intimate ambiance with a rotating menu that packs a punch.
“It doesn’t look like much when you’re pulling up to it since it has tinted windows, we’re in a strip mall next to Goodwill and the inside is very minimally done,” Ruggiero says. “But really, the focus for Hush was really about the food.
“We weren’t trying to set a mood back then. We spent our money on the food and dealt with the rest to get the place open.”
The gamble paid off, as the restaurant began receiving rave reviews.
Though the menu is frequently shuffled, depending on what Ruggiero and his chefs feel inspired by and what ingredients are in season, the menu has become known for staples like the Italian beef sandwich, grilled oysters, chicken liver mousse and crab hush puppies — all of which Ruggiero calls his favorites.
After the early success of his first restaurant, Ruggiero felt compelled to expand his presence into the vacated building next door to Hush Public House.
The Vanilla Gorilla Tap Room & Bottle House
After stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns decimated the dining industry, Ruggiero capitalized on a vacant space next door to Hush Public House.
He restored it into a concept that is the opposite of Hush Public House that he could use in case there was another restaurant shutdown and also maintain as a waiting room for patrons waiting to dine at Hush Public House.
“We wanted something that we could have in case something ever happened again, that could remain open and we could sell alcohol out of,” he says. “So, we have that space now and it also serves as Hush’s waiting room, if you will.”
He also wanted to do the one thing he couldn’t do when he first opened Hush Public House: create an ambiance.
“For this place, we wanted the opposite” of Hush, Ruggiero says. “We wanted something big and bright, open and fun and airy with bright colors.”
In August 2021, Ruggiero opened the doors to a vibrant-colored beer bar decorated by chalkboards that list out the beers on tap, casual seating, a grocery store-style refrigerator displaying all the canned and bottled beverages for sale and board games for patrons to play as they sip and swig.
He felt it was a place that North Scottsdale residents had been yearning for.
“It’s something that I feel like was lacking in North Scottsdale since there aren’t many grab bars up here,” he says.
This is also a place where Ruggiero feels he can throw a party. The Vanilla Gorilla Tap Room & Bottle House hosts live music, Trivia Tuesdays, Weenie Wednesdays where Fripper’s hot dogs are sold at half-price, and football across big screen TVs on Sundays.
However, his next concept veered back to his roots in upscale dining.
Fire at Will
For his next concept, Ruggiero wanted to create an intimate spot offering dark lighting, and intimate seating, highlighted by craft cocktails, local brews and signature dishes that diners at Hush Public House have enjoyed in the past, like burgers and sandwiches.
“It’s going to be really dark,” he says. “We have brick (walls) inside, we have burgundy tile, black ceilings, really like dim lighting and lots of plant fixtures are everywhere, so it’s going to be super dark.”
Fire at Will is projected to open November 12 and will mark the third restaurant to open under Ruggiero’s hospitality group, Cast Iron Concepts, which he launched last month.
Overall, Ruggiero says his goal is to “make the Arizona dining scene cooler one restaurant at a time” through his approach to homemade concepts and cuisines.