10 Questions: Judd Fruia

Fruia thinks big--and no wonder.

His tenure includes Pappas Bros. Steakhouse (big steaks, big wines and, once, the world's biggest cigar) and a stint with Consilient Restaurants (big buzz), while his newly opened Tre Amici fills the old Rick Stein's spot...making it perhaps the largest restaurant opening in an otherwise dismal season.

But Fruia not only thinks up projects, he acts: outfitting his restaurants with helicopter landing pads, stocking some hard to find wines and--more importantly--demanding consistent performance from his staff. In his spare time, well, just think big fish and little mermaids...

1. Ever get tired of that steak smell?
No, because there are so many other smells in a kitchen. You walk through the steak area to the seafood area to dessert. Besides, it's a great smell.

2. You're Italian, of course, but do you ever just want a Wiener schnitzel?
[Laughs]...Once in a blue moon.

3. Is it OK to order a small steak?
Oh, absolutely. It leaves room for other things and, when it comes to good steak, a little can go a long way. The only downside is you don't have leftovers.

4. Do you think Smurfette was cute?
No. Now Ariel from The Little Mermaid...Smurfette is a far, far second to Ariel.

5. Is there a movie you watch over and over and over?
There are two that intrigue me. Godfather--One is best--is just a great movie. The other is Jaws. I watch it everytime it's on. I guess I like the suspense, even though you know what's coming.

6. Owning a restaurant or managing, which is worst?
Each has challenges. There is a lot more pressure as an owner to succeed. As a manager, you are following company policy. So even though pressure exists, there's a back door. As an owner, the buck stops with you. There is no hiding.

7. Which almost sound like the outline of a country song. Do you have a favorite?
Probably "The Dance" by Garth Brooks. I went through a phase years ago--and I mean years ago. But it was a short spurt, so all the songs I know are old.

8. Whatever happened to the world's largest cigar?
We smoked it. This guy bought it and came in with 30 of his friends. They did it up right--steak, lobster, and we brought out caviar. We lit it with a propane torch, the one we use for creme brulee and they passed it around. Everyone had like five or six puffs--you had to have a set of lungs--and the ash didn't even move an inch. He has it framed at his home.

9. Beach or mountains?
I'm a beach guy. Although mountains are beautiful, there's so much going on under the water. Of course, it depends on the beach.

10. I've seen the fancy cars in the restaurant parking lot; Is there one you really love to drive?
That's a no brainer. Anything about Ferrari I love. I rented one and drove along the Amalfi Coast--that was in '95--and it's unbelievable. From Rome to Pompeii down to Capri, you're on top of the world. But I froze when those tour buses came around the corner.
--Dave Faries