Basi Italia is tucked away in a quite corner of Victorian Village at 811 Highland Ave. Despite its alley location, the Italian eatery has become a dining destination and well-know part of the Columbus food scene during its 12 years of turning out consistent, quality dishes. Chef Johnny Dornback and his wife Trish are often known as the faces of the business, but when illness took Dornback out of the kitchen and away from the restaurant, a new leadership emerged
“Basi is a great restaurant and we work hard to be consistent,” Dornback says. When faced with his absence, especially during the abysmal winter months, he wondered how things would fall into place. He’d had 12 years of building his venture and nailing down the nuances.
The team didn’t miss a beat. Dornback emphasizes the total group effort that has gone into keeping things in shape while he’s been out, but there’s two standouts in particular. First, General Manager Caitlin Lahr.
“Our business has been growing every year and there has been more for her to do, and more for her to assume and she’s handled it really well,” Dornback says.
Lahr has been with Basi almost from the beginning. She started as a busser before becoming a host, then served part-time while finishing her degree at OSU. The previous GM left right as she graduated and it was a natural transition into her current role.
“She has picked up all the little things that I do,” Dornback says. “She’s just been tremendous.”
As any small business owner knows, one title doesn’t cover it. In Dornback’s case, it’s chef/maintenance man/team builder. Now Lahr is the jack-of-all-trades.
“There is a saying that if you don’t want a nine to five, be prepared to hustle 24/7,” Lahr says. “That seems especially apt for Basi. My job on any given day could be returning phone calls one minute and fixing a pipe in the basement five minutes later. It is never boring.”
Keeping up with the delectable Italian dishes that Basi is known for is Kitchen Manager Rafael Rios.
“This turned out to be a great situation for both of us because he’s got a lot of experience working for me, but then before that, he had done some high-volume places in Columbus and he’s a real problem solver,” Dornback says.
Like Lahr, Rios has been with Basi for several years, working his way up through the kitchen.
“Our old sous chefs left to open Angry Bear Kitchen and Rafael took over as lead line cook, collaborating on the menu with Johnny,” Lahr says. “He eventually took over planning menu items and creating his own nightly specials. He has maintained the excellent quality of the food. Every dish looks lovely, and we have never had a chef work so quickly and efficiently.”
The past few months have also been the ultimate testament to the team atmosphere Basi aims to build.
“One thing that I have really learned to love about running a small business is that it’s all about the team,” Lahr says. “We have an amazing core group of employees that works really well together. Johnny and Trish have always tried to make the guest experience at Basi akin to joining a party at a friend’s house. I just try to keep the team headed in that direction.”
Hiring a wait staff that’s motivated and genuinely interested in the business has yielded a long-tenured group that takes pride and ownership in what they do.
“It’s a community feeling and we expect a lot from our employees, but we don’t try to micromanage,” Dornback says.
Like Lahr, they are privy to the details.
“In a small business if you’re not watching, you’re not learning,” he adds. Although there’s so much going on in their small space, it’s hard to miss a detail like a light bulb that’s out or something that’s leaking.
“There’s an ownership there,” Dornback says. “If they can’t fix it, they’re going to make sure to speak up.”
Dornback is eager to get back in the kitchen, but things might look a little different when he returns. As he describes it, the time away has helped him get out of his own way in a good way. He’s immensely proud of the way his staff has stepped up and realizing what they are really capable of. Back in the kitchen, he expects to take on a more creative roll with Rios focusing on production.
For more information, visit basi-italia.com.