Q&A with Nino Pernetti, owner of Caffe Abbracci in Coral Gables:
What inspired you to open Caffe Abbracci?
“Really, the love of people and bringing a little joy to their lives. I started as a barista in a cafe in my hometown of Lake Garda, Italy, as a young boy. I served old men their afternoon espresso. That feeling of making it right and having happy customers stayed with me through my travels around the world working for hotel chains. Owning my own restaurant has allowed me to apply all of the knowledge I gained over the years and, more importantly, to make lasting friendships. When people say, ‘Nino is everyone’s friend,’ I take that as the ultimate compliment. It makes me feel like I have the best job in the world for me.”
What are the keys to running a successful restaurant?
“There are many. The most important is being present. Many owners in this business are not, or they are spread too thinly over several locations. When people come to Caffe Abbracci, they can expect to be greeted by me, usually by name, with a warm smile and firm handshake or soft kiss on the cheek. I’m here five days and six nights a week.
“Another key is to build a loyal team. Caffe Abbracci has 18 employees that have been here since we opened more than 28 years ago!”
What are your future plans for Caffe Abbracci?
“To continue to focus on what we do best, which is serving Italian comfort food and making people happy. People don’t realize that we are always reinventing things here in very subtle ways. It might be new menu items, inspired by my annual summer trip home. It may be full remodeling of the the dining room or even new napkins and plates. Keeping things fresh has been a key to our longevity, and it’s what keeps us excited about the future.”
Who are some of the more famous people you have served?
“The list is so long, I’ve forgotten many. We have served three U.S. presidents: George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Jeb Bush and Governor Rick Scott are regulars. Athletes such as Pelé, Joe Montana, Dan Marino and Hall of Fame baseball manager Tommy Lasorda. Entertainers such as Sean Connery, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Sylvester Stallone, Madonna, Paul McCartney and Paul Newman, to name a few. Gloria and Emilio Estefan are regulars and dear friends as are Enrique Iglesias and Anna Kournikova. Quite a lovely young couple.
“One night years ago, we had David Letterman, Peter Jennings and Geraldo Rivera, at separate tables at one time. I encouraged them to get up and say hello to each other!”
And who would you like to serve at the restaurant?
“Anyone who hasn’t been here! Celebrity doesn’t really matter to us at Abbracci. We treat everyone like a celebrity, regardless of one’s station in life. Recently, I served a member of the fourth generation of Armando Codina’s family. Four generations…that’s what gives me the greatest pride.”
What do you cook yourself and your family at home?
“It isn’t meatloaf and mashed potatoes! We keep it simple and true to our Italian heritage at home. For my daughters, Tatiana and Katerina, I make a simple pasta pomodoro with fresh tomatoes. For just me, a tray of good cheese and a glass of robust wine.”
What is the key to good friendships?
“To be genuine and to be there when people need you the most.”
What can we expect from Abbracci during the holidays?
“New Year’s Eve is always our biggest party of the year. We plan it out about one year ahead of time, including everything from the menu to the music, to the decor and always a few surprises.”
Caffe Abbracci, 318 Aragon Avenue, Coral Gables; 305-441-0700; caffeabbracci.com.