Sweet Basil in Vail welcomes new manager Justin Abad, thanks Sam Ferraro
A staple of Vail Village’s Sweet Basil is moving on.
Sam Ferraro, who served as the general manager for 17 years, worked his last day at the restaurant on Saturday. Justin Abad now fills the position at Sweet Basil, located on Gore Creek Drive in Vail.
“We have so many well wishes for Sam,” said Matt Morgan, an owner of the restaurant. “He’s got so many friends and guests that know him as a face of the restaurant, and a parade of people have come in in tears because he has such a sincere emotional connection with them.”
Ferraro, who is moving to Denver to take a few months off, came to Vail originally to live here for only six months. He got a job as a part-time server at Sweet Basil, and after a year he was promoted to Dining Room Manager and then became the general manager in 2012 when Sweet Basil owners opened Mountain Standard, Sweet Basil’s casual counterpart located along Gore Creek.
“Vail is going to turn into me what it is for everyone else: a playground,” Ferraro said.
Noting that he has no regrets about coming to or staying in Vail, Ferraro stated that he doesn’t want to live in Vail because he wants it to be a place that he wants to visit.
“I want to get a burger at midnight, damn it,” Ferraro joked.
Unlike many that move to Vail temporarily, Ferraro’s move wasn’t inspired by snowsports. Instead, after a loss in his family, Ferraro chose to move away from home — just days after graduating college — in order to prove to himself that he can stand on his own. Vail became his destination rather than Bozeman, Montana, after a game of eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
“Vail taught me that I could stand on my own two feet,” Ferraro said. “And Sweet Basil gave me the platform to develop confidence.”
Ferraro’s career has been a meaningful one, noting that he’s become close with many guests — even recurring tourists; some of whom he’s seen grow from infancy.
Having such a relationship with guests and staff alike, it’s no wonder that Sweet Basil owners wanted to make his goodbye party special. Not only did previous staff members and owners join in on the fun, but also, some were even flown in from other parts of the country.
“That’s not normal restaurant stuff,” Ferraro said. “That was awesome.”
Often in the restaurant industry, a change in staffing is brought about by negativity, but Ferraro wants to be clear that his experience, up until the very end, was 100 percent positive.
“Things don’t go south (at Sweet Basil),” Ferraro said. “I don’t regret coming, I don’t regret staying and I don’t regret leaving.”
The change came after Ferraro took a step back to look at what he wants in his life moving forward, and two goals stood out to him: live within 30 minutes of an international airport, and not work an hour of overtime in 2019.
So Ferraro will move to Denver and Abad will move into the position of general manager.
The new guy
Abad joined the team in early December in order to create a smooth transition after beating out hundreds of candidates.
“It was a six-month process,” Morgan said. “We got hundreds of applications from across the country and did between 50 and 60 interviews.”
Six viable candidates came from the interviews, and Morgan invited Abad to visit Vail and spend time in the restaurant for two or three days. Abad, however, elected to visit for a full week in order to get a good understanding of the town and the restaurant.
“We’re thrilled to have Justin here,” Morgan said. “He’s got big shoes to fill, but he’s got deep experience in some of those intangible things. He has genuine care and desire to provide hospitality. He’ll make a terrific addition to the team.”
Abad’s resume is impressive, boasting successful ventures in the Washington, D.C., culinary world, including owning and selling a restaurant.
But after working at big restaurants in a big city, it was time for an adjustment.
“I was looking for a deliberate change of pace and environment after being in D.C. for 17 years,” Abad said. “… I reached out to Sweet Basil on my own and I received an email from Matt that was indicative of the environment I tried to emulate in my first restaurant. If I’m making such a big change, I wanted to be in a place that embodied that.”
Abad is also looking forward to bringing a new perspective to the restaurant.
“All of the managers have been from within the organization or from Vail,” Abad said. “Being from the East Coast, I’m probably bringing a unique perspective.”
Abad and Morgan both mentioned the organizational skills that Abad will bring to the table to help streamline daily tasks “in order to spend that much more time focusing on our guests,” as Abad put it.
For those that love Sweet Basil just the way it is, fear not. Abad and his team have no intentions of making massive changes.
“This place has been doing something right for a long time, so I’m bringing new and fresh ideas to the table,” Abad said. “But they’re building on what Sam brought to the table because he had a great vision.”
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