The Breadfruit & Rum Bar Owner
Hailed as one of the top innovative chefs in the Valley, Executive Chef Danielle Leoni has lived up to that distinction with an avant-garde approach to blending Arizona farm-fresh ingredients with the tropical traditions of Jamaica. Under her stewardship, The Breadfruit and Rum Bar introduced an entirely new cuisine to Arizona while redefining perceptions of tropical dining. Chef Leoni has spent over a decade exploring the islands of the Caribbean and immersing herself in local food cultures.
Her passion for sustainable change within our food system from land to sea has brought her national acclaim. The Monterey Bay Aquarium recognized her in 2018 with her induction into the Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force where she effects change via national policy. She is an alum of the 2017 James Beard Foundation (JBF) Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change and received the 2018 JBF Women in Entrepreneurial Leadership fellowship. Her relationship with the James Beard Foundation has enabled her to shape her community and nation towards developing a good food system. She holds the only Leader designation in Arizona in the JBF Smart Catch seafood sustainability program and is a known chef activist for seafood sustainability.
She is a board member of Slow Food Phoenix and Les Dames d’Escoffier Phoenix where she spends time cultivating a community focuses on developing community around food that supports our well-being and the well-being of our planet. Chef Leoni is an ardent supporter of the Arizona farming community, ocean conservation, seafood sustainability, zero waste and is dedicated to cultivating the next crop of culinary talent. Danielle holds an Executive Master of Sustainability Leadership and a BA in Political Science from Arizona State University.
I am known for seafood and sustainability.
Practicing patience, empathy and listening makes me the best version of myself. Stopping myself from making assumptions and always being willing to hear another point of view.
When we opened The Breadfruit & Rum Bar was also the first time I’ve ever run a business of my own or ever cooked professionally. Being a self-taught chef with a successful restaurant seems to have been done against all odds and certainly is a point of pride.
My motto is zero or 100. There is no in between – it’s either being done correctly or not.. Now, deciding to try something qualifies for being 100. It really means do what you say and say what you do 100% of the time.
My role models are all of the folks devoting their time to getting more people better food, working for social equality and ecological sustainability.
Sharing what I have learned over the years in my journey of becoming a chef and an entrepreneur to help others succeed is my greatest passion.
How did you get into the industry?
We opened The Breadfruit & Rum bar in 2008 simply because my partner and I thought that downtown Phoenix would embrace having a Jamaican restaurant in their community. Little did we know that we had years of an uphill battle ahead of us just trying to get people to even walk through the door.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
The time we live in now is exciting because it is filled with so many unknowns, which means boundless opportunities. People are questioning the assumptions about food that have existed for generations. A time where we trustingly consumed whatever big corporations produced is waning. As a chef, I hear more people asking – where does my food come from, why is the same food continuously sold at my grocery store, who grows my food, is the food I’m sold actually nutritious as it should be… the list goes on. We are waking up to the reality that if we want a better life for ourselves then we have to take back control of what we put into our mouths. This opens up the opportunity for chefs to harken back to our real purpose – to provide sustenance to those who trust us enough to take a seat at our table. Providing food that is grown and harvested responsibly takes all of our well-being into account. People want to be taken good care of and can sense real intrinsic value. As chefs, our true challenge is finding truly good food and our opportunity lies in providing that which people have always craved – truly good food.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
The Breadfruit & Rum Bar is a Jamaican restaurant and rum bar at heart. I want to show the nation that Jamaican food is beautiful, complex and deserves to be celebrated just as any other revered cuisine. This mission has become my platform for change. Through my food, I am able to shape our supply chain, food system, how people think about food and in turn their relationship with food. I have a decade long vision of my work inspiring others to choose to support fishers and farmers who are practicing their craft in harmony with the planet.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
I am grateful for the degree of success I have experienced. To reach where I am now in my journey as a chef and restauranteur was nearly a decade of constant reevaluation and learning. Success comes with diminishing ego, flexibility in point of view and embracing ways that are sustainable both socially and ecologically.
How do you motivate others?
Motivation comes from a sense of purpose. We are not just cooks, waiters and bartenders. We change the world with each guest we serve. Helping my team understand that greeting a guest, filling a glass of water and offering food has a real impact on the lives of our farmers and fishers, their families, our community, our state, our nation and in turn our planet is motivation enough. We are a part of the future, the density of our planet. We are changemakers.
My Daily Thoughts:
Goal of the Day: Do it better than I did it yesterday
Thought of the Day: Asking myself what’s wrong with now? This helps me to appreciate the moment and all the beauty that can be found in it.
Action of the Day: Be kind to yourself
Deed of the Day: Be as kind to a stranger as you would hope they would be to you.
Tip of the Day: If there is something wrong, you most likely had something to do with it! Take responsibility for the things you want to see changed or preserved.
A Day in My Life:
What do you love most about Your City?
Phoenix is burgeoning and with that is a rush of new people from so many places. The diversity, creativity and consciousness of my City is growing and watching this develop over the past decade is incredible.
What drink do you need to get through the day and at the end (and how many)?
I grew up in an Italian family where coffee was like water. Drinking coffee reminds me of family, a strong community, tradition and gives me the warmest feeling. I drink a couple of cups every day and sometimes more!
Most used App/Favorite Instagram Account?
Favorite Instagram page is @seafoodwatch – it’s a great intersection of culinary, ocean conservation, information, inspiration nd really remarkable pics of ocean life.
What should everyone try at least once?
Try asking if the fish they are about to order is sustainable. Hopefully you all will continue to ask! You know – we can’t get what we want if we don’t at least ask!