Gaione spent the next few years working in hotels as a waiter. He met his business partner, Antonio Capece, while the two worked in a hotel just below the Matahorn in the small town of Cervinia in Northern Italy. Antonio was a cook, Giaone a cocktail waiter. Together the two set out for America to try their luck.
Speaking no English, Gaione worked in various restaurants in Florida and Washington, D.C., finishing as a wine steward at D.C.’s well-regarded Galileo restaurant. He perfected his English by talking with customers. Never a chef, he considers serving to be as much of an art as cooking. “Even the eye wants its share,” he says, quoting an Italian proverb and summing up his commitment to fine presentation with delicious food.
In 1991, the Italian duo opened their first restaurant, Amici, which has become a ubiquitous stop in Carytown. It serves Northern Italian cuisine, and everything that appears on your plate was made in-house, including breads, pastas and desserts. In 1994, they opened La Grotta in Shockoe Slip. Giaone says he hopes both restaurants have a friendly European feel, “like in Italy, people talk with each other like a big old party.”
Gaione admits the restaurant business isn’t easy. He averages about 12 hours of work most days. That comes with sacrifices. Yet he’s learned that spending time with family is as important as serving up spaghetti, and he takes two days a week off to concentrate on raising his daughters.
Going out on his own, Giaone likes to get away from Italian food. He likes to eat Japanese at Hana Zushi, Chinese at Full Kee and red meat at Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
Gaione’s philosophy about restaurants is fairly simple: Look carefully at service and promote good communication between the waitstaff and customers. Ultimately, the goal is for “everyone to be happy, eating and smiling, then leave smiling.” — John WhiteMore cover stories