How chef and owner Lino De Vivo is living his dream
Lino De Vivo came to America with one goal in mind—to open an authentic Italian restaurant—one that would remind him of his hometown. De Vivo is from the southeast region of Italy known as Puglia and grew up in a town called Conversano within the city of Bari.
Growing up, De Vivo took on a variety of jobs in the summertime. He worked at a barbershop and at a catering hall. Ultimately, he found his passion to be within the culinary industry.
“When I decided to pick the direction that I wanted to be [in] I signed up myself for hairstyling,” he explained. “Two weeks before the school actually started, I went to sign up for culinary school and I realized that I loved to do that. Because of being in a five-star catering hall, I saw a different way of seeing the restaurant [industry]. There were different ways to do it. So, I signed up for that. And then I fell in love with the actual job and I pushed myself to become a restauranteur. My dream always was to have a restaurant and here we are.”
De Vivo attended culinary school in Puglia. He earned his degree from I.I.S.S. Consoli Pinto, Instituto Alberghiero e Tecnico Commerciale di Castellana Grotte. At 21-years-old —after being in the army, which was mandatory at the time—De Vivo came to America for vacation. He decided to plant his feet in America as the opportunities were far greater than in his home country to begin his culinary journey.
“In Italy, life is beautiful; you enjoy the life and everything, but it’s hard to move up, unless you come from a very wealthy family and that wasn’t my case,” De Vivo explained. “We were okay, but not wealthy. So, I decided to move over here [to America] and go forth with my dream.”
La Nonna Bella translates to ‘the beautiful grandmother.’ The menu reflects fresh Italian food with an emphasis on the flavors that you would expect to find in the Puglia region.
“The food from Puglia is so versatile because you are by the water and you are also inland,” De Vivo described. “You got from the gamey meat inland to all the different seafood and fish by the coast, and me growing up five kilometers from the coast, it was right in between the water and the mainland, so I was exposed to both of them so I try to include those ingredients into my menu. I want to keep my roots alive here in the states. I want to show off my customs and where I come from.”
All of La Nonna Bella’s cuisine is made fresh and made to order. De Vivo uses only the finest ingredients for each dish. Every year, De Vivo goes back home to Puglia as part of a business trip to discover fresh and new ingredients to put on La Nonna Bella’s menu.
“A lot of my friends, they own restaurants, own cafés, own bakeries or hotels,” he explained. “All of my family is there. Every summer, I make a point to send my kids with my wife. We all go so they can know my roots, my customs, my family, my parents, my grandparents and they see the style of life. When I go back there, knowing all those people, reuniting with everybody we exchange ideas. They want to know more about the cooking style over here and of course I want to be more into the new style of cuisine in Italy. That’s why we exchange ideas, recipes, tips and ingredients.”
De Vivo does in fact have his favorites on the menu. His favorites include appetizers, cestino di fava e cicoria and salame di cinghiale. In the entrée category, he enjoys cavatelli conversanese. For dessert, his favorites are sporcamuss and gelato. Cestino di fava e cicoria is fava bean purée and chicory on crostino with fried onions. Salame di cinghiale is wild boar salami with De Vivo’s own spin—walnuts, apples, shaved parmigiano cheese and truffle honey. Cavatelli conversanese is a pasta dish made with handmade cavatelli, carmelized onion, fava beans and spinach. Sporcamuss is a classic Italian dessert, which is a puff pastry filled with Italian pastry cream atop mixed berries and powdered sugar. Lastly on De Vivo’s list is gelato, which comes in a variety of flavors at La Nonna Bella.
La Nonna Bella has been under the ownership of De Vivo and his wife Erica for 11 years, along with a partner. He became the owner of the restaurant through an interesting chain of events.
“I was working for this place and it was called already La Nonna Bella,” he said. “They were in business for about a year. I decided that I didn’t see any future over here in this restaurant for me with the previous owner. I decided to move on to another place. I had a great opportunity that I could take, but before I did that, I asked the previous owner, ‘I’m going to leave. I have this great opportunity, unless you want to sell this place to me. I love the name. I will keep the name, because everyone has a beautiful grandmother.’ She agreed with me and I took over the place.”
To learn more about La Nonna Bella or to reserve a table, call 516-248-0366 or visit www.lanonnabella.com/