Dean Esposito Can’t Cook, But His Food is the Talk of the Town

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Scottsdale, Arizona restaurant owner Dean Esposito is no chef – he leaves that to his talented wife – but that hasn’t stopped him from pitching in at his busy local soup kitchen. Now, a special donation is kicking it up a notch.

In this country, there are so many people who have so much – nobody should have nothing.

A generous donation by two local restaurateurs will keep the Desert Hope Food Bank in Scottsdale, Arizona, up and running for another year at least, the food bank announced today.

Dean Esposito and his wife, Martina, partners in the popular Cuban restaurant Cabana Bella on the Scottsdale outskirts, have offered to donate food, storage space and money every month to rescue Desert Hope, a 10-year-old soup kitchen serving homeless persons and low-income families. Last month, Desert Hope announced it would be forced to close its doors at the end of February due to economic constraints.

“We couldn’t let that happen,” Dean Esposito said. “We couldn’t continue to live our comfortable lifestyle knowing that people in our own community were going hungry, and one of the few places that actually offered to help them was closing. In this country, there are so many people who have so much – nobody should have nothing.”

Dean began volunteering at Desert Hope about a year ago, after noticing long lines at the soup kitchen during his daily drive to Cabana Bella. The idea of her husband working in a kitchen amused Martina, at least at first.

By all accounts, Dean Esposito – Cabana Bella’s chief executive and host – should “just stay away from the kitchen,” noted Martina, the eatery’s head chef. The two met in college in Pennsylvania, fell immediately in love and realized their individual talents were also a match made in heaven: Martina was a culinary student with an ethnic flair stoked by a Cuban-Portuguese heritage, and Dean was a number-crunching charmer with a special talent for business.

After graduating in 2000 – she with a culinary arts degree from the Art Institute of Philadelphia, he with a business administration degree from Drexel University – the couple came west and opened Cabana Bella. Martina’s freshly made empanadas and tapas and Dean’s business-building brilliance created an instant hit, and the restaurant has gone on to become a local staple.

“We’re truly blessed,” Dean Esposito said. “Personally, I’m blessed to have found Martina, who’s not only beautiful and incredibly talented, but whose talents were the perfect match for the things I could do. Together, we’re blessed that this community took so well to Cabana Bella, and has continued to support us for more than 10 years.”

That support has provided a very good life for the Espositos. But Dean Esposito said the material comfort grew increasingly uncomfortable whenever he and Martina would drive to work and see the crowds outside Desert Hope. They inquired about the soup kitchen and Dean decided to volunteer there a few hours each week; since his cooking skills “bordered on homicidal,” according to Martina, he helped the soup kitchen’s managers balance their books and maintain schedules.

In late December 2011, Desert Hope – citing dwindling cash and food donations, and the spiraling costs of preparing as many as 5,000 hot lunches and dinners each month – announced it was bankrupt and would be closing as soon as the end of February. However, this week, Cabana Bella stepped up with a series of donations that, in concert with other donations, will keep the food bank afloat at least through the end of 2012.

The restaurant has offered to donate several hundred pounds of food to Desert Hope every month, as well as cooking essentials like salt, oil and flour; Cabana Bella will also store perishable Desert Hope foodstuffs in the restaurant’s large freezers and will cover the food bank’s monthly rent in the basement of the Almighty Destiny Church, where it has operated for the last 11 years.

“Desert Hope is a vital part of this community,” Dean Esposito said. “Any one of us could find ourselves homeless or in a desperate economic position, and thank goodness there are places like this and people like Daniel and Sandra to offer a helping hand.”

“Daniel and Sandra” are Daniel Dean and Sandra Adar, who opened Desert Hope in 2001. While it still needs food donations and cash donations to cover utility and insurance expenses, Desert Hope had no hope without Martina and Dean Esposito, according to Adar.

“They absolutely saved us,” she said. “And they are literally saving lives in this community. Martina and Dean Esposito are wonderful people with enormous hearts.”

“This is not about us,” Dean Esposito said. “Like I said, we have led blessed lives and we have what we need. This is about making sure others get what they need.”

About Dean Esposito
Dean Esposito, 31, is co-owner of Cabana Bella restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona. A native of Queens, New York, he is a graduate of Drexel University with a degree in business administration. Dean Esposito and his wife, Martina, the co-owner and head chef of Cabana Bella, live in Scottsdale and are avid hikers and music fans.

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Ed Eshel