Celebrity Chef Antonia Lofaso on Family, Food and Her Next Restaurant

An exclusive interview with the restaurateur reveals how she balances work and family and what’s coming up next.
Antonia Lofaso Food Fighters
What’s more time consuming than running a restaurant? Running two restaurants while raising a teenage daughter. (Photo: Greg Gayne/NBC)

Antonia Lofaso has been interested in food and restaurants all her life. She is the chef and owner of Los Angeles restaurants Scopa Italian Roots and Black Market Liquor Bar and a TV personality who appears as an advisor on CNBC’s “Restaurant Startup” and judge on Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen.” She’s also a parent.

Here’s how she balances it all, what got her into the restaurant business in the first place and what’s coming up next.

Juggling plates

What’s more time consuming than running a restaurant? Running two restaurants 20 miles apart while appearing on TV shows and raising a teenage daughter.

“It’s all about balance. Not that I have all the answers. I’m still trying to figure it out,” said Lofaso. “It’s about balance and doing the best you can every day. It’s about quality of time vs. quantity, making every moment count with my daughter,” 16-year-old Xea.

Visiting family in Long Island, New York, at the time of this interview, she planned to “shut off the phone and give them my full attention” when it was over. A single mom, she has “extremely helpful parents and brother.”

Xea also pulls a lot of weight. “My daughter is very independent and helps me. I’ve raised her that way, to be independent and helpful,” Lofaso said. “When she turned 16 she wanted to get a job, to pay for gas money. She wanted to go out on her own, do her own thing. She is working in a restaurant but not mine. She was like, ‘You’re my boss when we’re at home.’”

Lofaso lives in Venice, California, where Scopa is located, but it’s a 20-mile drive to Black Market in Studio City, in the San Fernando Valley. “I split my time and I’ve got a strong team at both,” she said, “but that’s part of why I haven’t opened another” — yet.

An early love affair with food

“I fell in love with cooking at a very young age. I was all about checking out different kinds of food and learning about people’s heritage through food,” Lofaso said. “When I was at friends’ houses on the weekend I’d be showing them how to roast chickens like my mom showed me. If we were having friends over for a barbecue I’d make the hot dogs. It was a natural evolution. I parlayed that into a real job.”

Appearing on Season 4 of “Top Chef” in 2008 and “Top Chef All-Stars” three years later turned Lofaso into a sought-after celebrity chef. “It was the most amazing stepping-stone I’ve had the honor of doing,” she said of the exposure that led to “Cutthroat Kitchen,” set to shoot new episodes this summer, and “Restaurant Startup,” awaiting its fourth season pickup.

“My identity is my restaurants”

“All of my competitive experience has made me more competitive in life. I’m always going for the gold. I love doing television shows. I love judging and competing on shows because it’s fun and exciting,” Lofaso said.

“TV has been amazing for the culture of food — people are excited about it and learning about it and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of that. But I really have a deep love for the restaurant business as well. I take a lot of pride in creating businesses and experiences for people. At the end of the day, my bread and butter and my identity is my restaurants.”

What’s next

Lofaso said there are other L.A. eateries in the works, “something downtown, something in Hollywood, something in the Valley. Some I can’t really talk about yet. I’m nowhere close to being finished.”

There was a two and a half year stretch between Black Market opening and Scopa, “and it will be two and a half years between that and the next one. I’m not opening things back to back. We time it to get our stuff together and make sure the restaurant is doing well, operating properly and functioning at its highest level before moving to another venue.”

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