Dussin says it was a natural move to begin working in the family business.
“My dad was in the restaurant business when I was growing up, as was my grandfather before him here in Portland, so I kind of grew up going to my dad’s restaurants,” he says. “I think I was 14 when I first started bussing tables. We made a trip up to Seattle because we had opened a Spaghetti Factory up there at spring break and that was probably the first time that I bussed tables and helped out a little bit.”
Dussin continued to work in the restaurant throughout high school and into college. He was able to see how everything from the kitchen to management operated in a restaurant.
However, he wasn’t always sure he would stick around. He says, “There were certainly times where, especially in high school, I didn’t know if I wanted to be in the business. From when I was a teenager my dad would always be talking to me about, ‘well you’re going to be in the company and someday you’ll run the business,’ so he always planted the seed. Let’s put it that way.”
After spending time in California in the late 1970s, Dussin returned home to work in the company’s offices to learn “more about the corporate side of things.” During this experience, Dussin still missed California. He was able to convince his father to let him open up a store in Fullerton, California, and lead the project from the ground up.
“I got to be part of the construction of the store and then open it up and I ran it for three years,” he says. “I still own it today but it was great experience for me to be out on my own and see what it was like to start something up and have to own it and pay for it, and run it.”
The Fullerton location was a turning point for Dussin. Now that he had his own piece of the company and was able to see a project from start to end, Dussin felt like he was able to grow while running the business over three years. He saw it as a sign he was meant to be in the family business.
“It was a little different feel I think that I felt like it was mine. It gave me a little time to grow, too,” he says. “I was in my late 20s when I went down there, I think I was 28. And then I came back here when I was around 31 or so and started doing more things at the office working with my dad and starting to learn more of the details of the business—negotiating leases, looking at sites, and the operations—you pick up on a lot of things when you’re around it in this environment whether its purchasing or marketing.”
Dussin served as the company’s president from 1997–2015 when he moved into the chairman position and his brother-in-law, Dean, took over as president.
“It’s more than just a business, I think to us it’s a family,” Dussin says. “The fun part of coming here every day still is all the long-term employees we have that have been with us for 30 to 40 years. There’s just not many companies that I think that are in that position anymore especially in the restaurant industry. I’m proud we’ve made it to 50 and hopefully we can continue on down the road."
Relevance through innovation
The restaurant industry is as competitive as ever, and The Old Spaghetti Factory recognizes the need to remain innovative with menu items and stay on trend with flavor in order to keep guests flowing through the door.
Over 50 years, menus are destined to change. The original iteration, which once featured spaghetti and veal, has expanded to include salads, appetizers, and chicken dishes. All of which add variety for customers, Dussin says.
“There’s no doubt that our menu has evolved,” he says. “It was very limited in the beginning with spaghetti and sauces. But as time went on and competition started to grow in our markets we started adding some chicken dishes and things. [My dad] felt like people in those days wanted a little more variety.”
Each menu decision is made with value in mind. Some past dishes weighed down the kitchen and were removed because it they stuffed throughput. The Old Spaghetti Factory simplified systems over the years to keep menu prices down without sacrificing quality.
“For us, we are still about volume and value with the price side, so we have to do the volume in order to make the restaurant successful,” Dussin says. “The only way you can do that is if you have a system that’s simplistic and not too complicated where you can get the food out. We still have nights where we do over 1,000 people for dinner, so that’s really been the key to it.”
Five decades later, Dussin believes the concept behind the Old Spaghetti Factory is still approachable for guests young and old. He says, “Everybody likes pasta. So, it’s kind of in that category of foods that people are used to eating and something you look forward to.”
Besides consistently producing high-quality dishes, the company is focused on maintaining its well-guarded culture. This is achieved, Dussin says, by hiring the right employees and ensuring the guest experience is consistent each time customers walk through the doors. It might seem like a simple set of guidelines to follow, and it is. But maintaining these standards is the key reason The Old Spaghetti Factory has stayed relevant for so long, Dussin says.
“We’re still here because we’ve been consistent in what we’ve done for 50 years,” Dussin says. “And once you get to be our age if you are consistent you kind of become part of the community, part of the fabric of that community, so then people start looking at it like well that’s our Spaghetti Factory.”