Dana Pellicano is the New York-based president of Patina Restaurant Group, which operates restaurants in New York City, Boston, California, and Orlando. A part of global hospitality and entertainment company Delaware North, Patina also has a significant event and venue catering business.
How she got her start: As a teenager, Pellicano worked as a prep cook and order-taker at a pizzeria in her hometown of Bloomfield, N.J. She moved to New York to study international relations at Fordham University, which eventually led to work at the United Nations—but continued waiting tables to make ends meet. While she originally dreamt of being an international diplomat, "I slowly felt the passion for hospitality overtake my other aspirations," she remembers. "I started to think I could make a real career out of hospitality."
She continues, "I was raised by a single mom who ingrained in me the need to support myself financially and attain academic credentials. So, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in food studies from New York University while working full time, ultimately becoming an events and catering manager, kitchen manager, and then general manager at well-known establishments in New York."
After years of front-of-house experience, Pellicano made the move to corporate leadership roles in food and beverage for major hospitality companies, including 15 years with Marriott International as vice president of food and beverage operations, where she oversaw events, culinary, restaurants, and bars across 30 brands and 10,000-plus global outlets.
In May 2022, Pellicano took the reins at Patina Restaurant Group. And in her free time, she's a fellow at the Culinary Institute of America's Society of Fellows, and an advisory member of V.I.B.E (Very Important Beverage Executives).
What innovation means to her: "I love a quote about comfort and how it never motivated anyone," she says. "I’ve always been a person who’s at home with change, disruption, and the relentless pursuit of new ideas. In the coming weeks, we’re preparing to launch a new catering business with an A-list celebrity chef—and it’ll not only complement our existing operations, but bring another level of expertise to our team."
To Pellicano, it's all about recognizing that customer tastes are continuously evolving, and adapting service styles and event design while incorporating new flavor profiles and a broader range of ingredients.
Pellicano also draws ideas and expertise from her colleagues across Delaware North's six operating divisions—which means she can "collect insights about our guests at major league sports, and learn about consumer tastes in our national parks, casinos, resorts, and airports," she explains. "We have a lot of data about our guests and what they want, so innovation is harnessing that knowledge to deliver positive experiences for our guests and our business."
Memorable moments: "About a week into my current role, I attended the 2022 PGA Championship in Tulsa, Okla., where Patina managed foodservice operations for the more than 40,000 people who attended each day," she remembers. "In my 25 years in this business, I've never been so impressed with a single event. It was frankly amazing to see the team executing restaurant-quality food and beverage using propane-powered cooking equipment in temporary structures."
Pellicano also cites some of the major star-studded events that Patina caters, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's annual Art + Film Gala. "It's a surreal annual fundraiser chaired by Eva Chow and Leonardo DiCaprio. Being one of our most high-profile events in 2022, I loved seeing how the service and menu elevated the event’s sophistication," she says.
Her all-time favorite food: "I am a firm believer that even bad pizza is good, so pizza is a no-brainer. But I will also never say no to a Taylor ham, egg, and cheese sandwich, or a great fresh-filled jelly doughnut."
Her biggest hope for the F&B industry: Pellicano argues that the restaurant and catering industry were challenged more than any other during the pandemic, as ordinances prohibiting indoor dining were among the last to recede. "My biggest hope is that people come out in force to support local restaurants and restart having fabulous celebrations and events in the coming years," she says. "Food and beverage are the heart of the shared experience, and there’s no better way to foster connection—be that to each other or our communities—than through a great dining experience."
She continues, "I hope the industry continues to tell great stories through service and experiences, highlight local and regional sourcing, operate more sustainably, and provide a pathway for future hospitality leaders to practice their craft and create memories for guests around the world."