Trattoria Il Panino server David Ledbury’s Instagram (dml713) is Boston’s version of TMZ — check him out posing with everyone from Post Malone to Allen Iverson to Robert De Niro to Nicole Richie. The 41-year-old grew up in Malden, working in restaurants since he was 14. He spent the majority of his career in the North End as a server with restaurateur Frank DePasquale (Bricco, Mare, Il Panino), though he also helped to open Fratelli at Encore Boston Harbor.
“I just love the energy, the passion. I love people,” Ledbury says. “I watch two channels: I watch the news and ESPN, so I can relate to any table that comes in here with either their team or something that happened within their state. I love that. I can read people pretty well, and that’s what they love.”
What’s the first restaurant that you remember eating at in Boston?
It’s probably going to be the Cactus Club. My brother worked there, and so I went there. I’m from Malden. I ended up being a busser through my high school and college years.
What’s one thing you’d like to fix about the restaurant industry here?
To make everyone have passion for their job and love it. Do you know what I mean? The people who work within the industry, not just temporary people. I mean, I love what I do — but people do it for different reasons. If I could have everybody who works with me have the same passion and energy, that’s something I would change.
How has the restaurant landscape changed since you first came to Boston?
Well, you know what it is? There’s so many [restaurants] popping up, and there’s so much competition now — definitely with the Seaport and everything. I mean, Boston’s growing, so there are more options … Boston is just growing and growing. The Seaport. The casino. And only the strong survive. … There was always the North End; that was the place to go, because you knew what you were getting. I mean, I grew up with Italian food, so I always went for what I knew. Does that makes sense? Then Boylston Street became the hotspot with Abe & Louie’s and those places over there. Now the Seaport just keeps growing.
What other restaurants do you visit when you’re not working?
I recently I went to Zuma. It’s nice. It has a nice concept. And Mariel, which is a Cuban restaurant. I have Monday and Tuesdays off. We go out to dinner a lot on those days and try different [restaurants], but I end up retreating back to the North End because we have so many great restaurants. You know what I mean? We have Mare, we have Bricco, we have Aqua Pazza, we have Assaggio — so the food’s phenomenal. Why would I go anywhere else, you know? And I also go to Strip by Strega. That’s one of my favorites.
What’s your earliest food memory that made you think that you might work in restaurants someday?
I grew up in restaurants. When I went to college, I went to Penn State, the Pennsylvania State University, and I ended up studying hotel, restaurant, and institutional management because it’s all I knew. I just have a love for that business. Some people love it.
What’s the worst restaurant experience you’ve ever had?
The worst? It just would have to be with the service. The food could be great, but if that person who’s waiting on you doesn’t get it. . . . You shouldn’t have to put your hand up to look for the server. The server should know what you want before you want it. Maybe that’s because I’m in the industry, so it’s hard for me. I go into a lot of restaurants, and I look at everything, from when you walk in the door. The hostess to the bathrooms, if they’re clean, to the service — and it boggles my mind that we’re there to spend money and you’re there to take as much as you can. If I have an empty drink, I should probably have another one in front of me. I always look through the eyes of the server.
How could the Boston food scene improve?
To be honest with you, all these new restaurants that are coming up, they’re so high-priced. I don’t know how long they’ll make it, because the restaurants we work at, we have people come every two weeks. These people, if I go to their restaurant, I’m probably going every six months. Unless you’re a billionaire living over in the Seaport and that’s how you eat every night, the average person is not going in there every weekend.
If you had to describe your customers in three words, what would you say?
A majority of people come from all over the country. I don’t know how to say that. They have a great vibe. I don’t know; that’s two words! The people who come into our restaurant, it’s the repeat business from whenever they come to Boston. They’re coming to our restaurant because they love it so much. … We have loyal customers. A lot of people, they’re connoisseurs of food, so they love eating out of the dish. We serve our food in a dish. I don’t know if you’re aware of that. Out of a pan. [They like] consistency. They’re always getting the same thing that they had a year or two years ago, you know?
What’s the most overdone food trend right now?
When you go into the bar and that person is called a mixologist. That just blows my mind. Dude, you’re an average bartender, and you’re just smoking them on the price because they want tequila and you’re going to mix, I don’t know, bitters and some other thing with it. To be called a mixologist, I don’t know even what that is.
What are you reading right now?
I was reading the David Ortiz story — “Papi: My Story,” with Michael Holley.
How’s your commute?
I live in Everett now. It’s 10 minutes. Usually I get dropped off and picked up. Some days I’ll park, but then you’ve got to find the right parking.
What’s one food you never want to eat again?
Fast food. I don’t go to those places. I’m all set. I think as I get older, my body isn’t taking it.
What kind of restaurant is Boston missing right now?
Well, honestly, you know what they’re missing? The hibachis. I think that would be a cool concept — where it’s like a circus, where they talk to you and put on a little show.
What Boston restaurant do you miss the most?
I didn’t really go to the ones that are all closing, like the No Name … Oh, I know. The one in Chelsea, the Club House. I used to like that. They had steak tips, stuff like that.
Who was your most memorable customer?
I’ve thought about this. I get a lot of famous people: Joe Montana, politicians, athletes, you name them, I probably could FaceTime them right now. … There was a little old couple walking by on a Saturday night, and I brought them in. They wanted seafood, and I was standing outside of Panino on the Hanover side. I said, “You know what? Come with me,” and I walked them over to Mare. I said, “Here, take care of them, blah blah blah.” Didn’t think anything of it. That was a Saturday night. The next day at lunchtime, we’re opening up. I see this black SUV pull up and the little old lady gets out of it. I said, “Hey, what are you doing?” She’s like, “I’m coming to eat with you today,” and I said, “Oh, that’s awesome. Come in.”
Then I see this guy with an earpiece in his ear. Then she says, “Oh, I’ve got to sit in the back, my daughter’s kind of famous.” I said, “OK, who’s your daughter?" I keep thinking in my head, “Michelle Obama?” She ends up coming in, and it was Kerry Washington.
They came back the next day because of what I did for them. Which is a cool story.
If you had to eat your last meal in Boston, where would you go?
Honestly, it would have to be Il Panino, the mushroom ravioli, the ravioli porcini with the black truffle cream sauce. It’s just off the wall. Our lobster ravioli’s the most popular, but it would have to be the mushroom ravioli.