Growing up in Argentina, Waldo Cesoni watched his father run a hotel and restaurant business. His Italian immigrant parents instilled a strong sense of hospitality in their son from a young age. “To me, the restaurant is your home. You just welcome your friends and never treat it as a business,” Waldo reflects. He enjoyed talking to patrons and being in the restaurant environment. When he came to the US in 1988 as a young adult, he immediately started working in the restaurant industry. He worked for a variety of chefs and restaurants, from fine dining to more casual establishments.

Through decades of experience, Waldo climbed the ranks and found great success in his career. He served as General Manager for Michael Mina Bourbon Steakhouse in Los Angeles and Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group in Las Vegas, and became an Operating Partner at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse in El Segundo. He never thought that he’d want to open his own restaurant. But life changes, including a divorce and a new job opportunity, brought him to Palm Desert, California. Then, the onset of the pandemic hit the restaurant industry especially hard and he lost his job. He woke up one day and realized that he had all the skills and expertise to run a restaurant, he just had to decide to do it for himself. 

In 2021, Waldo bought Backstreet Bistro, a nearly 20-year-old business at the time. He applied his managerial and operational skills to dramatically increase the restaurant’s profit margins within the first year of re-opening the business. He decided to build off of this success with a second restaurant, Waldo’s Ristorante. A seasoned industry veteran, Waldo knew that he needed at least 6 months’ worth of funds in the bank to cover business startup costs and keep the business growing, even through seasonal slowdowns. To help him navigate his financing options, The City of Palm Desert connected Waldo with Mike Pagani of the Orange County Inland Empire Small Business Development Center (SBDC), who referred him to Darius Mahajer, SVP – Senior Relationship Manager at Main Street Launch.

Waldo worked closely with Darius to put together his financing package. “The process was flawless,” Waldo says. “It was intense at first because there are a lot of requirements. But it was a guided process. With each requirement, Darius told me what I needed and where to get it from.” Waldo felt encouraged by the support he received, adding, “it might seem overwhelming at the beginning, but Darius makes it easy.” After completing the application process, Waldo’s Ristorante received a $350,000 SBA Community Advantage loan from Main Street Launch.

The loan allowed Waldo to buy equipment and make his first food and alcohol order. As a startup restaurant, he knew he’d need a lot of working capital in the bank in order to cover that crucial but expensive first order. From his decades of experience, Waldo emphasizes that, “the first year is the hardest. You need a lot of money to back you up and you need to make sure that you have enough to cover payroll, taxes, and fees.” All of those expenses add up very quickly for new businesses. “I feel very blessed to have the funds. Many new restaurants close because they don’t have enough money from the beginning,” he says.

Waldo’s Ristorante is a full-service restaurant in Palm Desert serving East Coast-style Italian-American food with a full bar, dining room, and patio. Applying the lessons learned from his upbringing, Waldo pays special attention to the service aspect of the business. “I want the restaurant to always be welcoming to everyone who walks through the doors. We focus on hospitality – the experience, the whole package. I want customers to walk out thinking, ‘I had a great time there.’” In order to achieve this elevated level of service, Waldo advises, “take care of the employees and make sure you have the right people. You can’t be at every table, can’t talk to every customer, so you have to be able to rely on your staff.” He manages to do this well, as his restaurant currently employs 65 people.

You can experience the warm hospitality and delicious Italian comfort food–including Waldo’s personal favorite dish, the lasagna–by visiting Waldo’s Ristorante if you’re in the Coachella Valley area.