This weekend – May 20, to be exact – marks the 10th anniversary of Francesco’s Ristorante and Pizzeria in Maitland, and chef/owner Francesco Aiello plans to celebrate a decade of success. On Friday and Saturday, the popular restaurant will feature live music, much food and toasts to those who have supported Aiello and his crew over the years.
Aiello is a native of Palermo, Sicily, and developed a love for cooking at an early age, eventually attending the Instituto Alberghiero, a culinary school in Palermo.
After graduating, he moved to Central Florida and worked in Italian restaurants for several years, including one called the Sicilian on Lee Road and most notably Terramia Ristorante & Wine Bar in Altamonte Springs, working with longtime restaurateur Rosario Spagnolo, eventually opening the Lake Mary Terramia.
“Rosario was a nice mentor for me,” Aiello said. “Nine years I was working for Rosario and watching him.” But Aiello wanted more. “It was my dream to open my own business.” He figured he finally had enough experience, and with his business partner, John Maciewicz, set out to find a place of his own.
It’s only been in the past few years that Maitland has seen a growth in restaurants, especially with the opening of Maitland City Centre. But in 2012 there weren’t many places for upscale and casual full-service dining along that stretch of Orlando Avenue between Lee Road and Horatio Avenue. But there was one exception: Antonio’s La Fiamma, another Italian restaurant, practically across the street from where Aiello planned to open.
“Everybody thought I was crazy” to open so close to Antonio’s, Aiello said recently. But he didn’t want to open in Lake Mary or along State Road 434 where he might be in competition with Spagnolo, and he knew the area – and people knew him – from his time at the Sicilian.
And besides, he figured, the two restaurants specialized in two different experiences. “I think it’s a different kind of atmosphere when you have the chef/owner cooking,” he said. “I’m there every single day.” And he’s on full view in Francesco’s open kitchen, which also has a food bar where people can watch up close.
“People can watch, they can say hello to the staff,” he said. “They see how hard we’re working and see that everything is getting made at the moment.”
Aiello said the biggest challenge in opening his own place was learning the business side of running his own restaurant, but he credits Maciewicz, who is now a 50-50 partner, with that part.
And he has a tip of his toque to his employees for helping to make the restaurant a success, including Nino Carrera, a server who has been with him the full 10 years. Two others, Hector Alarcon and Jacob Nolen, have been with him for nine years.
And in the kitchen with him are Aldo Sarmiento, his chef de cuisine, and pizzaiolo Ben Wader, who both joined about a year and a half ago. And rounding out the kitchen crew are Dan Reich, Carlos Tapia and Maurizio di Loreto.
Aiella says he sees something of himself in di Loreto. “He has a dream to open his own restaurant some day,” he said. “I have hope for him.”