Lucky number 1

Giovanni Trombaís successes with Table 13 & Bistro 13 have nothing to do with superstition

By Wendy Gillett

Photo by Guy W. Kitchens

Bistro 13 serves up food that is not just beautiful, but delicious too.


umbers can mean different things to different people. Birthdates, anniversaries, the ages of our children — we all have our favorites for whatever reason. After all, one man’s street address is another man’s lottery pick. Most people will agree, though, that 13 is not at the top of the lucky number list. This was especially true for the very superstitious Giovanni Tromba, owner and operator of Bistro 13 in Camarillo and Table 13 in Ventura, who had never even allowed a table with the number 13 in any of his prior eateries. But all that changed when his son suggested he throw caution to the wind and name his entire restaurant after the unluckiest of numbers.

Originally called Pastabilities, Tromba opened his doors in Ventura County in 1991, planning to build his chain into a franchise and become the best restaurant in Ventura County. But he soon realized something interesting about himself — “I am not a franchise type of guy,” he says. “I like to say ‘hi’ to my customers. I like to receive the orders in the morning so I can look at the salmon and tell if it is really fresh … That is why a franchise is not for me.”  Instead, he decided to make some slight changes to the décor and the menu and update his existing restaurants to show his customers he was not just for pasta anymore.

Head Chef Carlos Limas

And with dishes like baked brie with roasted garlic, chicken picatta and seared tuna with a ponzu glaze, it is clear why his customers race to both of his successful locations. So he changed the names but kept the same philosophy, tradition and, most importantly, the staff. “It is the passion of the people who work for me that makes a difference,” says Tromba. “When you walk into my restaurant, you will be greeted with respect and taken care of. The people who work for me are those kinds of workers. If they don’t have the passion to take care of people, they are not for me.”

Each individual employee at Bistro 13 in Camarillo is not only passionate, but has an individual success story that is intertwined with Tromba’s. The manager, Jorge, started out as a busboy over a decade ago. Cheyann Logan was hired as a server and worked her way up to the director of marketing. And then there is Carlos Limas, the head chef, who started out as a dishwasher at a prior Tromba restaurant back in 1978 and has been with him ever since.

Whether it is the philosophy, the tradition or the staff, Tromba has had great success as a restaurateur. He humbly admits, though, that he sees it as a much bigger picture. Between shaking hands with the regulars and opening doors for guests who like to dine on the quaint patio while Sinatra plays overhead, he explains his desire not only to provide a meal but also to “bring back a lifestyle we are missing today: enjoying some wine, listening to music. We need to go back to slow food and get rid of fast food.”

Bistro 13 has also been “slow” to remove the old Pastabilities sign on the outside of the building so the customers will know it is the same owner and not much has changed. Nothing much except a fear of that certain number nestled between 12 and 14. As for Tromba himself, he would probably still shudder at the passing of a black cat, and undoubtedly he would never walk under a ladder, but as far as the number 13 is concerned, that is a superstition he no longer worries about.


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