The North Valley has New Jersey and classical music to thank for the emergence of its culinary scene 40 years ago.
Dennis Mastro—the patriarch of the Mastro family, those behind Steak 44, Mastro’s and Dominick’s—is a New Jersey native.
“While in college, I worked at a radio station as a late-night disc jockey playing classical music,” Dennis says.
And while Dennis eventually purchased a piece of the station, he was selling advertising primarily to restaurants. It helped him mine his second love: the restaurants themselves. So much so, he and his family, which eventually included four children with wife Jane, moved to Las Vegas in the 1970s so he could immerse himself in an industry hotspot.
The Mastro family has been heavy hitters in the restaurant business since. Its Steak 44 was recently named one of OpenTable’s 2019 List of the 100 Best Restaurants in America for a Big Night Out. It was joined in the list by sister restaurant, Steak 48 in Houston.
Where’s their beef?
Dennis admits learning the restaurant business in Vegas was great, but raising kids was hard.
“So, we made our way to Scottsdale in 1976, eventually opening our first concept—What’s Your Beef—in 1978,” Dennis says.
The steakhouse became a legendary hotspot throughout the 1970s and ’80s. Its success inspired the family to open Barnacle Bill’s, which combined two restaurant concepts under one roof, and Marco Polo, a mainstay of the culinary scene for decades, soon after.
During this time, Mastro’s son Mike showed an interest in joining the family business, as did the family’s unofficial “adopted” son, Scotty Troilo, who met them in 1978 at 19 when he applied for a job at What’s Your Beef.
“Scotty has been with our family since nearly day one,” says Dennis, who made Troilo and Mike partners by 1985. Dennis also had Troilo lead the charge in Maloney’s.
Maloney’s opened in 1991 and became one of the most successful pubs in Arizona—at one time boasting nine locations—for 25 years.
“But even after all of this, into the mid-1990s, we still hadn’t made our way into the high-end steakhouse business,” says Mike, who spent copious years studying the well-known “chain” steakhouses popping up in the area. “Finally, in 1999, we made the jump, opening the first Mastro’s Steakhouse on Pinnacle Peak and Pima.”
The high-end menu and wine program made headlines across and beyond the Valley.
“Most locals don’t know this, but we actually opened our second Mastro’s in Beverly Hills,” says Mike, who helped develop Mastro’s City Hall and Ocean Club for Scottsdale in the early 2000s.
The puzzle is complete
By then, the final piece of the puzzle also fell into place: Jeff Mastro.
Initially a successful attorney in Phoenix, Jeff often helped his family with legal work.
“The bug got me just as it got all of them. I soon found myself standing side by side with my dad, Mike and Scotty as a full partner,” Jeff says.
Then things really got interesting. The family opened Mastro concepts across California before selling 90% of the brand in 2007 and the remaining 10% in 2012. The sale price was reportedly $180 million.
“We never planned to get out of the business, just to start looking at new ways to spread our wings,” Mike says. “The first move post sale was one of the most special to our family – opening Dominick’s Steakhouse at Scottsdale Quarter in 2011.”
Named after Dennis’ father, Dominick Mastro, the ultra-lux steak and seafood venue boasts one of the most popular—and opulent—bars.
“But we were far from done, next came Steak 44 in 2014,” Jeff says. “We beat out hundreds of others who wanted to re-imagine the space. Turns out, the landlord making the decision worked next door to the Beverly Hills Mastro’s, and was a fan.”
Lauded since its inception for its open kitchen, Instagram-worthy wall of cleavers, cutting-edge cocktails and their meat, Steak 44 marked a new era for the Mastro family. In recent years, they expanded the brand to Houston and Chicago, though calling those locales Steak 48, and then late last year opened Ocean 44.
Restaurants are the Mastro family’s passion, just like giving back.
“We started really focusing on giving back in the early 2000s, with The Foundation for Blind Children as our initial partner. My godson was born blind, so the cause was a personal passion of ours,” Mike says.
And while the family hasn’t kept exact track of its fundraising work to date, they estimate they’ve raised and donated several million dollars for those in need across Arizona.
“We quickly expanded our reach, both by hosting signature events—some of which raised nearly a million dollars in a single night—for the foundation as well as Phoenix Children’s Hospital, The Larry Fitzgerald First Down Foundation, Tony La Russa and Brock Osweiler’s Dinner of Champions and many more.”