We sat down to talk with Francis Castagnetti Jr. , the General Manager who keeps things running over at Union. We discussed what makes a great dining experience, his background in the restaurant business and his love for Chef Kalman’s spaghetti.
How did you come to work at Union?
I moved to California from the East Coast back in 2003 and got a job working over at Match in North Hollywood before it turned into Tiki No. From there, I met Marie Petulla (Union’s c0-owner) who brought me over to Firefly in Studio City. Then when the person who had my job before me at Union was moving on, Marie just said, “you’re coming to work for me at Union.”
Have you always worked in the restaurant business?
My very first job, when I was 15 years old, was in an ice cream shop in Framingham, Massachusetts. Then when I was 19, I started working in an Italian Bakery in Newton, Mass. I was the guy who made the bread. And I loved making the bread. It’s a science. But bread people are always talking about temperature controlled rooms. Go to Rome. No one cares about the temperature of the room. They just make the bread.
When I was 19, making bread was just a job. Who cares? But when you get older it becomes pretty cool to have these skills. Here at Union we get all of our bread from Etxea Bakery in Hawthorn. They make it specific for us. We give them the flour we buy from Grist & Toll and then they mix it with their own special sour.
Details like this are why I love working for Union. This restaurant is a philosophy. We don’t deal with any middlemen whatsoever. We’re dealing directly with bakers, farmers and ranchers. Working at Union brings me back to my Italian childhood. Grandma was cooking food from scratch every day. And if you wanted fish, you went out and caught it.
How would you describe the Union experience to anyone who’s never eaten here before?
Everyone who works here comes from a fine dining background, but we’re all super laid back. Dan, Flower and I all work in tandem to create the best dining experience possible. This is a dream team. We all have a massive amount of respect for what Marie and Bruce have built and for each other.
Restaurants are how I’m able to be social. Working at a restaurant allows me to bring people joy through the experience. It’s like I’m throwing a party for every single person eating with us. It’s our job to make people feel like this is the very best place they can spend their money.
If a restaurant’s look or music doesn’t match the crowd, you’re gonna have problems. We keep an upbeat vibe going in here. I’m playing DJ now that Bruce is downtown with Knead. But Bruce and I are from the same era, so our sensibilities are very similar. You’re gonna hear Led Zepplin. You’re gonna hear Michael Jackson.
But at the end of the day, it’s about the food. You have to ask yourself, would I drive 45 minutes across town for this food? If the answer is no, then we’re not putting it on the menu.
What are you excited about in the near future?
I’m also looking forward to us bringing in some more lamb, veal and beef to the menu.
What’s your favorite dish at Union?
The spaghetti. The first time I had it I was hooked. It reminds me of grandma. Chef Kalman’s spaghetti brought back tastes and flavors I hadn’t thought of in 2o years. I would not want to live without that spaghetti.