Ruffino’s closes its doors

After nearly 20 years in business, Ruffino’s Italian restaurant is shutting down.

26-year-old Chef Asdren Azemi seems to have the culinary world on a silver-serving platter. Azemi has a degree from the French Culinary Institute in New York where he held an apprenticeship with some top American chefs He also has 10 years of restaurant management experience. His most recent step is closing down his family restaurant.

Growing up, Ruffino’s was a sort of play ground for Azemi. As a child, Azemi would wash dishes and play around in the kitchen. Growing up he was a server, and when an accident prevented his father from running the business any longer, Azemi took over at the age of 17. Azemi said his family has owned restaurants all over the Dallas Fort Worth area, but to him, Ruffino’s was his baby.

“Ruffino’s is kind of the home I grew up in,” Azemi said. “In my mind I’ll own this place forever but it was time to call it quits and walk away for financial reasons.”

Fort Worth is the fifth fastest growing city in America, according to the US Census Bureau. However, Ruffino’s Italian restaurant is the second restaurant on Forest Park Boulevard to close its doors in the past few months.

Grady’s Restaurant, named one of Dallas Morning News’ top 100 restaurants in DFW, shut its doors Aug. 1. Without a press release, the website has become inaccessible, the phone number disconnected.

“Fort Worth really changed since 2000. Downtown transformed, West 7th Street expanded. People have gone away from this side of town and it really became quiet.” Azemi said.

“We really became a destination place and that’s what killed us tremendously financially.”

In 2009, while he was in New York, Azemi said he realized Ruffino’s was struggling. He canceled plans to live in Brooklyn while exploring his culinary career and returned to Fort Worth to take over Ruffino’s as head chef.

Azemi had run the restaurant since he was 17-years-old, but as head chef he decided it was time to give the restaurant a face-lift and consider new marketing strategies.

As Azemi saw the customer consistency dwindle, he introduced door-to-door marketing initiatives in Forest Park. Azemi would knock on doors in his chef coat offering appetizers and invitations to eat at Ruffino’s.

Azemi fought for his business with these strategies until Nov. 15, the day he closed the doors to Ruffino’s. In the end, he said it was no longer in his control.
“We could have survived if the neighborhood had supported us. I wish we had more of the neighborhood’s support and that more than anything is a tough pill to swallow. These people are our family.” Azemi said.

Azemi doesn’t want to blame the closure on the irregular patrons. He said with the current economic situation, eating out less is understandable. However, he can’t help but note with a heavy heart, the consistently full parking lots of franchise Italian restaurant chains just down the street.

Mark Brown, a business owner in Fort Worth, lives just behind the newly closed restaurant. Brown said the originality of the restaurant is exactly what drew him in as a regular customer.

“When I came to Fort Worth for college it was difficult to find any restaurants that were one of a kind. Ruffino’s was the first Italian eatery I found that wasn’t on every corner and I loved it,” Brown said.

Brown admits that while he enjoyed the food and convenience of Ruffino’s very much, he hadn’t been to the restaurant in over six months.

Azemi said he is not prepared to leave the food industry however. His plans vary from traveling around the world to restaurant consulting in Fort Worth. With a history of multiple family owned restaurants in the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex, this restaurateur said it’s just in his DNA.

Within the months of Grady’s and Ruffino’s closure, businesses continue to flourish and blossom in Sundance Square and on West 7th Street. The Cupcakery, Trader Joe’s, and Fort Worth Food Park are just a few of the new businesses taking advantage of the obvious draw to these booming areas of town.

A Fort Worth resident of 43 years said she has seen the area change dramatically, especially considering the businesses in the Forest Park Area. Now, restaurant owners must compete with a new market for food and entertainment with the change in trends.

“The way people are eating is different, people are tending to eat local organic food so that’s a change as well,” she said.

“Also something else is changing mobile food service is growing by leaps and bounds. Food trucks are not only popular but you can get a meal for a very small price and they’re fun.”

Food trucks like Salsa Limon and Trough Burger Wagon may now pose a threat to the neighborhood restaurants that relied on convenience and accessibility to maintain customers.

After 26 years of cooking for his neighborhood, Azemi said “We had a great run, no hard feelings.”