The Naked Fish, Paso Robles, Danny Cardinale

Sushi chefs Ahtty and ‘Tako’ serve a lunch customer a bridge of fresh-cut sushi at The Naked Fish.

Cardinale comes full circle

Spending 11 years in the fast pace of the Los Angeles restaurant world, home grown Danny Cardinale applied his passion for food service in the management of more than a dozen restaurants before landing back home in Paso Robles as the co-owner of The Naked Fish sushi restaurant.

Opening on 13th Street, triangulated between three flagship restaurants — Thomas Hill Organics, The Hatch, and Fish Gaucho — Cardinale is positioned to pilot another destination dining experience into the new era of downtown Paso Robles.

Cardinale was born and raised Paso Robles, the son of long time Paso Robles High School counselor Joe Cardinale, and the 31-year old understands what kind of community he was coming back to.

“Rolling around with my dad is like rolling around with the Mayor,” Cardinale said. “He either counseled someone’s kid, or their parents, or both. My mom worked at Twin Cities.”

After high school, Cardinale tried college, but “college didn’t work out for me,” and he began his career running valet cars on Hollywood Boulevard.

Cardinale then moved from the sidewalk to the kitchen.

“I ended up going from valet to dishwasher,” Cardinale explained, “to bus boy, to food runner, to expediter, to bar back, to bartender, and eventually restaurant manager. I went the farm system on this. I didn’t go to school for it.”

Finding his way through the jungle of the L.A. restaurant scene, long hours included nights, weekends, and holidays — which took its toll.

“I quit my job [in 2013] to be up here with family for holidays,” Cardinale said.

A meeting with The Naked Fish owner Karen Staeheli set him on track to transform her San Luis Obispo and South Lake Tahoe locations before opening the Paso Robles location.

The new location is staffed with “young and talented” sushi chefs — including “Tako” and Ahtty.

“This is an environment where they flourish,” Cardinale said. “They can have fun and be loud … I’m trying to do what I know, which is operating restaurants well and creating an environment that is engaging and fun, and people feel like they’ve been there before.”

Along with an inviting environment, the restaurant boasts a unique and tantalizing menu.

“I wish I could take credit for the cuisine,” Cardinale said. “The sushi chefs get all the credit for what happens here. I pick people who mesh and work well together. Many hands make light work, and that creates a seamless hospitality experience.”

Coming full circle, Cardinale is now serving the community he was raised by. Stopping by any given day, one might see a trio of PRHS basketball coaches including Derrick Jasper and Scott Larson enjoying a bite and strategizing how to prepare the team to beat the Greyhounds next winter season.

Being home, and reuniting with old friends who have already carved out their niche in Paso, Cardinale was struck with a resounding life lesson.

“I realized they were living simpler lives, and they were happier than I was,” Cardinale said.

Although Cardinale has not left the industry that demands his attention nights, weekends, and holidays, he now gets to host friends and family right at home.