Alumna Interview - Restaurateur Delores Tronco
Even before opening her new restaurant, Work & Class, in Denver’s Ballpark neighborhood four months ago, alumna Delores Tronco (BA-05) had made a big name for herself in the metro dining scene.
Tronco dove headfirst into Denver’s culinary world in 2010, managing and directing human resources at such stylish eateries as Steuben’s and Euclid Hall, all while organizing a highly successful series of food truck-themed celebrations known as The Justice League of Street Food. Now, after three years of hard-earned managerial experience, planning, market research, and fundraising, Tronco’s dream of owning and operating her own restaurant has been realized. And it’s been met with waves of public support and stellar reviews from the press. Work & Class was named Denver’s “Hottest Restaurant” by Zagat ,and Tronco was recently honored by the Denver Post as one of their Top Thinkers of 2013.
A Greeley native, Tronco traces her love affair with the restaurant industry back to waitressing jobs at UNC-area hotspots like Roma’s. Not only did these positions help her pay her way through college, she found the work immersive, fully engaging both her creative and logical faculties.
“I discovered at a young age that joy of just totally throwing yourself into the tasks that make up a restaurant workday,” Tronco said. “Now, as an owner, I get to crunch numbers, develop strategies, lead my staff, and by dinnertime I’m on my feet engaging with my customers out on the floor. That, for me, is a perfect day.”
Tronco, took a similarly well-rounded approach to her education, pursuing an English major on the recommendation of longtime faculty mentor Dr. Marcus Embry.
“He told me, ‘Delores, this degree isn’t going to lock you into one particular profession, it’s going to teach you how to think critically and express your ideas clearly. With those skills, you can sell your talents in any field.’ How could I argue with that?” Tronco said. Despite the rigorous course load it entailed, Tronco also pursued a minor in business administration through MCB. “I always used to joke that I took calculus and creative writing back-to-back, but the practical skills I took away from those courses have been invaluable to me as a business owner,” Tronco said.
After graduating cum laude from UNC and completing a prestigious non-profit management fellowship through the El Pomar Foundation, Tronco found work in a number of high-profile public relations positions. But in spite of her success, she found herself staying up late most nights, researching the restaurant industry and longing to return.
“I came to the realization that nobody but me had to wake up every day and live my life,” Tronco said. “So I decided to give it a shot. I lost all my benefits, took a big pay cut, and started my work life over again in restaurant management. I never dreamed I’d be in a position to open my own place four years later.”
And yet, with the help of a seasoned team of restaurant professionals including co-owners Tony Maciag and Dana “Loca” Rodriguez, Tronco has accomplished just that. Its down-to-earth approach to sophisticated dining (motto: “A square meal, a stiff drink, and a fair price.”) has continued to set Work & Class apart from its high-concept, high-cost peers in the metro area. For Tronco, this isn’t just an expression of her belief that good food should be affordable. The restaurant’s winning philosophy was borne out by the scrupulous market research she performed in its earliest planning stages, an attention to detail she recommends to all aspiring entrepreneurs.
“Ask all the hard questions when you’re formulating your business plan,” Tronco said. “If research suggests your current strategy isn’t viable, you need to rework it until the project is something you can believe in wholeheartedly. As an entrepreneur, that is your responsibility to everyone you approach for support: a sincere belief in your business and total dedication to its success.”
“I feel privileged to create the space that people live their lives in,” said Tronco. “There are so many reasons why people come to restaurants. I’ll never forget the moment when this lovely woman, a mother whose family I had been serving at Roma’s nearly every week, confided in me that dining out had been their way of coping with the painful process of her chemotherapy treatments.
‘And today is the first day my hair is long enough for me to get a haircut. So tonight, we’ve invited friends to come out and celebrate with us.’
Having the opportunity to play a role in significant moments like that—that’s why I know for certain that the restaurant business is the only thing I’d ever want to do.”
Many thanks to Delores for sharing these insights with us! If you want to get a sneak peek into Work & Class and make yourself really, really hungry, be sure to check out Zagat’s gallery of their "Must-Try Dishes."
Do you share Delores’s entrepreneurial spirit? UNC BizHub, our university’s new small business incubator, offers a free lecture series and direct mentoring opportunities that will allow you to draw on the expertise of successful alumni and other local industry experts. Connect with active Bears in the business world today!
Already established your career but want to expand your skill set? The Monfort College of Business is preparing to launch its new MBA program in fall of ‘14. This exciting new program is designed to suit the busy schedules of working professionals. Get more info here.
Photo courtesy of Adam Larkey and denver.eater.com. The Work & Class team from left to right: Executive Chef and Managing Partner Dana “Loca” Rodriguez, Co-Owner and UNC alumna Delores Tronco, Co-Owner Tony Maciag.