Lisa Dahl is busy. Not only is she running her three Sedona restaurants, for the next few months she will be haunting trade shows all over the country gathering equipment and furnishings for her next restaurant, Mariposa.
With plans to open in early 2015, it will have a South American flavor and offer steak and seafood.
“It’s a new adventure. I am totally excited,” she said.
Mariposa joins Dahl’s other fine dinning restaurants, Dahl and DiLuca Restorante Italino and Cucina Rustica. Pisa Lisa, just over a year old, is her first casual restaurant.
Her restaurants welcome about 200,000 guests a year and she credits her success to just keeping everything genuine.
“I believe in simplicity overall – the way I deal with food in my restaurants, letting the flavors come through and not covering it with a lot of layers, [which would] not allow you to taste the freshness,” she said.
Dahl grew up in Indianapolis as one of four children. She excelled in gymnastics.
She was a Brownie and then a Girl Scout. “I actually enjoyed the crafts and the camaraderie of the girls, of course.”
Her mom, also a very busy woman, was the Brownie leader. “When you have four kids in five years, you have a lot of stamina,” she said.
Dahl says she knew she loved cooking when she was a teenager. She credits her mom and grandmother for her interest and motivation. She described her mom as a “cook,” not a chef, but she made food fantastic.
“I had a wonderful grandmother who was influenced by fresh cuisine, even though it was not ‘in’ at the time,” she said. “Our food was always delicious, but very simple.”
Another influence was her nanny who added into the mix southern cooking that contributed “a little bit of kick,” she said. “There was not a bad cook in our background.”
Dahl began her career in fashion, another motivation imparted by her mother, who was the owner and operator of high fashion stores. “My mother was a career woman. She had several stores and was trend-setting. I spent many years following in her footsteps.”
Her mother not only set trends in fashion, she set trends in widow decoration. “She was doing all kinds of fabulous displays before it was trendy.”
Dahl spent 20 years in fashion, reaching the position of West coast distributor for a major shoe designer. “I traveled for years and I loved it,” she said. “I call myself a passionista. I am passionate about fashion, cooking and décor. They go together perfectly.”
Dahl takes great care decorating her restaurants. There is a feel to each room, especially during the holidays. She says their ambience is due to the spirit of her son, Justin, who was killed in San Francisco in 1994 when he chased after a thief who stole a backpack from a man with a cane. The thief stabbed to death the Good Samaritan. He was only 23. She dedicates her restaurants to him. His story is on the menus, which guests read cover to cover.
“We believe he has blessed the success and energy of the restaurants,” she said. “This is my spiritual motivation; it’s my creative juices which give me tireless energy for the business from morning until night because I feel guided.”
Dahl says his spirit gives a special feeling that cannot be replicated. “You have a magical feeling and feel a loving atmosphere.”
She came to Sedona after her only child’s death because she felt it was a very special place. “It felt secure and I heard it was a very healing place.”
Her first restaurant, Dahl and DiLuca, was founded 18 years ago. Then came Cucina Rustica in 2003 and then Pisa Lisa just over a year ago. She said guests tell her the wood-fired pizza is some of the best they have had anywhere in the world.
Today, she partakes in yoga, bicycling and hiking, a few of the reasons she loves living in Northern Arizona. In her spare time, she is involved in the community, hosting fundraisers for such places as the hospital in Flagstaff and numerous other causes.
“I am very proud I have been able to help out.” FBN