Alumni Profile: John Crisafulli
La Mesa native, John Crisafulli (’92, finance), worked for a catering company when he was 14 years old.
By the time he was 21, he and his sister, Teresa (’88, journalism) owned the company.
“When I was 14, my sister – who was 19 at the time – had a cool job working for a local concert promoter as a production runner,” recalled Crisafulli. “She introduced me to the caterer who provided meals and dressing room supplies to touring musicians, like Van Halen and Tina Turner, who stopped in San Diego. I don’t think the caterer realized how young I was, but she hired me to help unpack her van, work with the chef, set up the dressing rooms and pack up the equipment at the end of the show.”
Off to Boston and Back Again
Crisafulli continued to work for the caterer until he went to Boston University for his freshman year of college. But after some personal issues brought him back home to San Diego, the lure of attending SDSU was hard to resist. Both of his parents received master’s degrees from SDSU and his two older siblings earned their bachelor’s degrees from SDSU as well.
“Attending SDSU was the natural and easy choice” said Crisafulli. “I chose to major in finance because I’ve always enjoyed mathematics, and finance seemed to be a good bridge between a topic I enjoyed and degree program that had a high demand in the job market.”
While he was at SDSU, he held several jobs, including the position with the caterer he worked with before his move to Boston. As he neared graduation, he was offered a job with a securities company at the Chicago Board of Trade, which he enthusiastically accepted.
Fateful Decision Made Over Late Night Snack
But Crisafulli’s career plans evolved in a way he could not have imagined when he accepted the job in Chicago. “One night after we finished work at a concert, my sister and I stopped at a diner for a late night snack,” said Crisafulli. “By the time we left the restaurant, we decided to purchase the catering company, operate it for two years and then sell it. Afterwards, I planned to return to the world of finance and my sister would go back to a public relations/marketing position that she previously held.”
Crisafulli called his new boss in Chicago, told him he would not be coming to work after all and, at the ripe old age of 21, he became the co-owner of a catering company. The two year timeframe the siblings set to sell the business came and went. The turning point for the meteoric growth came through persistence and a complimentary “introduction luncheon” to the right people, their company, now called Behind the Scenes Catering, earned a contract during the 1995 America’s Cup event in San Diego.
Catering the Olympic Games
Their work at the America’s Cup event opened the door for Behind the Scenes to eventually provide catering at 10 consecutive Winter and Summer Olympic Games, with Crisafulli’s company feeding the staff and on-air talent for NBC Sports and global affiliates, international media groups, organizing committees,
sponsors’ hospitality suites, and even public concession sales. While catering at the Olympics has contributed greatly to the company’s success, it also had its share of challenges such as language barriers, working in unfamiliar business cultures, tax and labor laws, and different health and safety regulations for each county they work in. But flexibility and persistence has paid off for Behind the Scenes and Crisafulli now has the luxury of being able to choose the Olympic projects they cater.
Just when Behind the Scenes was building their phenomenal success with the Olympics, another unforeseen event hit the company in December of 2001 when Teresa Crisafulli Villa lost her battle with breast cancer at the young age of 36. John Crisafulli, who never imagined himself in the catering business in the first place, found himself as the company’s sole proprietor at the age of 31.
While many successes – along with the tragic events - have shaped Crisafulli’s company in the past 30 years, his business education has provided him with the skills needed to propel his company forward. “The education I received at SDSU and the Executive MBA I earned from the University of Chicago have served me well,” he said. “My education taught me how to work with others to find solutions, to build negotiation tactics and strategies, and how to leverage resources to build something bigger and more valuable.”
“Did I ever anticipate owning a catering and event company would be a conduit to exercise these skills? Absolutely not, however, it just makes sense that I’ve combined my love of entrepreneurship with my enjoyment of helping people plan amazing events. One thing you learn quickly in business, every day is a new, exciting, and sometimes unforeseen challenge and my education prepared me well to properly handle these situations.”