Meet the GM

Meet Phil Berg

Phil Berg spent nearly his entire career in the hospitality industry working at chain restaurants. He’s worked at Denny’s and Coco’s, and has managed restaurants for the Applebee’s and BJ’s franchises. Most impressively Phil gracefully handled the chaotic roller coaster of simultaneously managing five Universal Studios restaurants at once.

Despite working for so many different organizations, Phil found himself being continuously placed into the same box. Time and time again he was instructed to follow the franchises’ formulas for success, formulas which provided little room for creativity and independent thinking. Sandra DiCicco gave Phil the opportunity to break out of that box.

In 2020 Phil Berg joined the Grand Restaurant Group at the invitation of CEO Sandra DiCicco. 

Phil was given control of a fledgling Italian restaurant. Though it was adored locally, Rancho Santa Fe’s Nick & G’s struggled to make its presence felt amongst North County’s competitive culinary scene. Under Berg’s leadership Nick & G’s grew from a local hotspot to a destination location, revered for its bold take on Italian classics. Through aggressive experimentation, bold redesign, and a commitment to inclusivity, Phil Berg nearly doubled Nick & G’s revenue, bringing it from $95,000 in January 2020 to $187,000 in January 2021.

Phil Berg doesn’t consider himself to be a great restaurateur. In his eyes, he’s mediocre at best (a deceptively modest assessment when you consider Nick & G’s fast paced revenue growth). But what Phil lacks in technical knowledge, he makes up for in leadership skills. During his time as the general manager at Nick & G’s, Phil has cultivated a culture which values experimentation, sufficiency, and togetherness above all else.

To build revenue Phil needed to first build a team capable of realizing Nick & G’s full potential. He set about recruiting employees who he felt shared his vision of what Nick & G’s could be. Phil recognized that he didn’t need to be the smartest manager in the county, so long as he had a capable and motivated staff to lean on. Above all else, Phil valued candidates who he felt demonstrated creative insights and independent thinking. He was looking for teammates, not robots. After spending decades in a box swarming with corporate drones, he sought to build a culinary coalition of self-starters, also eager to break free from formulas.

Once he had his team, Phil designed a new process predicated on tight knit feedback loops, which valued customer feedback above all else. By leveraging customer insights to radically improve operations, Phil Berg was able to foster a powerful sense of community among Nick & G’s patrons. This loyalty led to an uptick in word of mouth advertising, which spread like wildfire.

Today Phil jokingly refers to Nick & G’s as the worst kept secret in San Diego. Sales during the height of the pandemic were nearly double what they had been the previous January, and the average check has increased twenty dollars per person.

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When asked how he developed his signature leadership style, Phile has trouble pointing to just one source. The most impactful influences on are undoubtedly former Coco’s manager Bill Lucky, who told Phil to forget what he was told in corporate leadership training and instead focus on his staff and customers, and Sandy DiCicco who placed an incredible amount of trust in Phil’s capabilities. These relationships shaped Phil’s views on mentorship and experimentation.

Phil’s commitment to employee development is a core tenet in his philosophy as a manager. He openly recognizes that most of his employees aren’t long for the industry. His staff is filled with students, seasonal workers, and aspiring young professionals. Phil believes the best thing he can do for his employees and the restaurant is to impart five core values to each team member; communication, responsibility, reliability, integrity, and sense of urgency. By emphasizing these fundamental values, Phil arms team members with the tools they need to succeed in any industry.

When it comes to his favorite Nick & G’s dish, Phil is anything but bold. He craves a culinary classic; spaghetti and meatballs. The recipe is a family heirloom which the DiCicco’s have passed down from generation to generation. Phil connects with the dish’s homemade taste, which takes him back to the days of his youth. With each savory bite he feels a warm tenderness, reminiscent of his childhood home.