By Alison Bailin Batz / Photos by James Patrick / Shot on location at Dominick’s Steakhouse
Growing up in New Jersey, Dennis Mastro dreamt of becoming an attorney.
“What I didn’t dream about was all that extra schooling it would take – the idea of that was more of a nightmare,” says Dennis, who got a job working at a radio station while in college deciding on his career path. “I worked on the air as a late-night disc jockey playing, of all things, classical music.”
Between his late-night gig and daytime classes, Dennis also managed to find love.
“I was on a student tour in Europe when I met an amazing Canadian girl named Jane. That was more than 52 years ago, and we’ve been together ever since, having four children along the way,” Dennis says.
He eventually began selling advertising for the station, finding so much success that he was able to purchase a piece of the company upon graduation. Among his best clients: restaurants.
“I fell in love with restaurants almost immediately, eventually moving to Las Vegas to make my way in the culinary world in the mid-1970s,” says Dennis, whose wife similarly loved the industry but not raising kids in Vegas. “So, we moved to nearby Scottsdale to plant our roots in 1976.”
The Mastro family’s first foray into the Arizona restaurant business came thanks to a tennis club.
“When we moved here, our family joined Scottsdale Park, a then-tennis club on Hayden and McDonald,” Dennis says. “When it fell into financial trouble, they asked me to step in, so I bought the space and transformed it into a casual steakhouse called What’s Your Beef in 1978.”
The steakhouse would go on to become a legendary hot spot throughout the 1970s and 80s. Its success inspired the family to open Barnacle Bill’s, which combined two restaurant concepts under one roof, then Marco Polo Supper Club, a mainstay of the culinary scene for decades located at Pima Road and Shea Boulevard.
During this same time, Mastro’s oldest son, Mike, showed an interest in joining the family business, as did the family’s unofficial “adopted” son, Scotty Troilo, who met the family in 1978 at just 19 years old when he applied for a job at What’s Your Beef.
“Scotty has been with our family since nearly day one,” Dennis says. He made Troilo a full partner in the business by 1985, along with Mike, and Troilo would then go on to lead the charge in opening another concept: Maloney’s Tavern.
The traditional pub-meets-energetic-dance club concept, which launched in 1991, became one of the most successful bar brands in Arizona for 25 years, at one time boasting nine locations nationwide.
“But even after all of this, into the mid-1990s we still hadn’t made our way into the high-end steakhouse business,” says Mike, who spent copious years studying the well-known “chain” steakhouses popping up in the area. “Finally, in 1999, we made the jump, opening the first Mastro’s Steakhouse on Pinnacle Peak and Pima.”
Quickly, the high-end menu and wine program made headlines across the Valley and beyond.
“Most locals don’t know this, but we actually opened our second Mastro’s in Beverly Hills, which turned into somewhat of a kismet moment, despite the fact we opened the week before the 9/11 attacks,” Mike says. He also helped develop Mastro’s City Hall and Mastro’s Ocean Club concepts in Scottsdale in the early 2000s.
By then, the final piece of the puzzle also fell into place: Jeff Mastro, the company’s current CEO.
“Though my dad never ended up in law, I initially did,” says Jeff, who worked as an attorney at Bryan Cave in Phoenix before jumping into the family business. “I began just doing legal work for [Mastro’s], but soon found myself standing side by side with my dad, Mike and Scotty as a full partner.”
The decade-plus since Jeff came on board has been a whirlwind for the family. After opening several more Mastro’s concepts, including locations in Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and Thousand Oaks, California, the family sold the brand in 2007.
“We never planned to get out of the business, just to start looking at new ways to spread our wings,” Mike says. “The first move post-sale was one of the most special to our family – opening Dominick’s Steakhouse at Scottsdale Quarter in 2012.”
Named in homage to Dennis’ father, Dominick Mastro, the ultra-luxe steak and seafood venue boasts one of the most popular and opulent bars in Arizona as well as an open-air dining option on the roof, complete with a pool serving as the centerpiece of the space.
Less than a year later, Mike was buzzing past the old Cork ’n Cleaver space on 44th Street and Camelback Road in Arcadia – a space as iconic as the family’s What’s Your Beef back in the day – and saw a fire left it devastated, but now available for a new tenant.
“I got on the phone that minute, calling the listed landlord to make a pitch for the space, along with hundreds of others who’d done the same,” Mike says. “But we had an ace in the hole. As it turned out, the landlord was housed next door to the Beverly Hills Mastro’s, and he was a fan. Kismet.”
By 2014, the family worked with top designers and chefs to transform the fire-ravaged space into a warm, approachable steakhouse, yet with all the bells and whistles they’d become known for over the past four decades. They named it Steak 44.
Lauded since its inception for its open kitchen, Instagram-worthy wall of cleavers, cutting-edge cocktails, and, of course, its prime cuts of meat, Steak 44 marked a new era for the Mastro family. In recent years, they expanded the brand to Houston and Chicago, calling those locales Steak 48, and by the end of this year, they will expand the family business once again with their latest brand, Ocean 44.
“Scottsdale Fashion Square approached us about bringing the concept to the area as part of their multi-million-dollar facelift,” Jeff says. “They’ve agreed to locate us in the freestanding space formerly home to Harkins Theatres Camelview 5. Our plan is to blow people away with a seductive and dramatic, yet warm, space and spectacular seafood, along with our great steak.”
So, with all this going on, how does the family spend its spare time? By giving back.
“We started really focusing on giving back in the early 2000s, with The Foundation for Blind Children as our initial partner. My godson was born blind, so the cause was a personal passion of ours,” Mike says. “We quickly expanded our reach, both by hosting signature events – some of which raised nearly a million dollars in a single night – for the foundation as well as Phoenix Children’s Hospital, The Larry Fitzgerald First Down Fund, Arians Family Foundation and many more, as well as making donations to causes that touched us.”
And while the family hasn’t kept exact track of its fundraising work, they estimate they’ve raised and donated several million dollars for those in need across Arizona, and similar amounts in any state where they have a presence.
“While we’ve never put pen to paper and tallied up our charitable works, in Scottsdale alone we are proud to have been a part of several million dollars in giving back to others – really, to our extended family in a way – in need,” Troilo says. “Because that is just what you do.”