If Brian Artero could go back in time, to the beginning of his career, what advice would he give to his younger self? “Get out and find another line of work,” he jokingly quipped. In all seriousness though, as the mastermind behind Crust, it can be difficult to imagine him anywhere else.
Twenty years ago, Artero subbed for a friend who washed dishes at Marty’s Cantina in Tumon. When his friend came back and reclaimed the position, Artero stayed as management decided to keep him, obviously pleased with his performance and attitude. True enough, they slowly promoted him through the kitchen, stock room, and dining room, all the way up to management.
Then from managing one restaurant, Artero joined Pacific Ventures—a conglomerate of Taco Bell, Shakey’s, and Sizzlers—and became responsible for several establishments. Soon after Lone Star Steakhouse opened in Tamuning, Artero moved to California to open several more restaurants there as an area manager.
When he returned to Guam, Artero established Pacific Dining and bought Lone Star Steakhouse in 2002. In 2009, he opened Chili’s Bar and Grill up the street. “At the time, I was a big fan [of Chili’s]. I would always go to their bar in California,” he said. “You go for things you enjoy.”
After test-driving the franchise for six years, however, Artero decided to concentrate on his passion project: pizza. Thus was born the Crust Pizzeria Napoletana. Artero designed his own restaurant from the ground up.
This San Francisco-trained restaurateur values authenticity. But since he has never set foot in Italy, he brought in instead a master pizzaiolo as consultant for his pizza project. He also made sure to import a number of specialty ingredients to make Crust’s products as genuine as those actually made in Italy.
“We do a few things here to make it authentic. We use double-zero flour from Naples, we import San Marzano tomatoes, and have an oven made by a family who has been making them for 100 years,” Artero said. “You have to make dough with your hands, no machines. Italians are very hands on. We also make fresh pasta and hand-pulled mozzarella.”
Suffice it to say, Artero spends most of his time with Crust, because like a four-month old baby, it needs a lot of TLC. He said he wants to watch it grow, confident that his other concern, the 21-year-old Lone Star Steakhouse, can run on its own. As a hands-on manager, Artero likes to jump in to cook or bartend. And being one of only two people in Crust who knows the secret dough recipe, he often starts his days at 5:30 a.m., his hands already covered in flour. “We’re all given the same 24 hours in a day, so I have to use mine carefully,” he noted, adding, “I didn’t have a TV for many years, on purpose, while I built my business.”
Of the food industry’s seemingly robust appearance, Artero said, “The industry is [actually] not growing. More restaurants are opening, but without market demand, that means you have more dining rooms that are less busy. Is there a demand for more? No. There is a demand for different. Guam wants independent restaurants…I don’t want to eat at Olive Garden. I want to go to the corner Italian spot with family recipes. Why go to McDonalds when you can go to Chode Market? Drive to any restaurant, and where it’s busy is where things are unique.”
While he enjoys paddle boarding and being out in the sun, Artero also spends a lot of his free time reading. Two of the books he returns to each year are The Art of the Deal (1978) by Donald Trump and The Richest Man In Babylon (1926) by George Samuel Clason.
After thinking about his journey from dishwasher to CEO a minute longer, and perhaps realizing Crust is exactly where he wants to be, Artero said he would tell his 16-year-old self to be more patient. “At the time, it felt like I was doing everything so slowly, but now I see how quickly I was moving.”
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