There does not exist even one American Star, from Leonardo DiCaprio to Robert De Niro, from Charlize Theron to Martin Scorsese, that visiting Rome, has not gone for dinner at least once at the Restaurant “Antica Pesa”, a real institution in the heart of “Trastevere”, where his owner, Francesco Panella, warmly welcomes the international jet set. Today Antica Pesa enjoys undisputed international prestige thanks to the Roman entrepreneur’s professionalism, care and attention to detail.
An important milestone is coming up, 100 years in business and you are the fourth generation of the Panella family to lead Antica Pesa. Restaurants are in your DNA, but what are the reasons behind your success?
There are many reasons, but the first is, without a doubt, our spirit of sacrifice. The multiple generations of the Panella family at the helm of Antica Pesa have consistently put this entrepreneurial project at the centre of their lives.Total dedication and immense passion have guided us to important milestones.
I would add indisputable entrepreneurial abilities.
That too, of course, and a close-knit, motivated team. I have enormous respect for our past and for the work done by my grandparents and my father before me. In recent years, however, many things have changed; we inevitably must move quickly and stay in step with the times, we must always come up with new ideas and precise goals to be met. Many of my dreams have cometrue thanks to a team of collaborators – my siblings first and foremost – who supported me even when a few of those dreams seemed impossible.
In 2012, Antica Pesa landed in New York, in the trendiest part of Brooklyn: Williamsburg. By now, “La Pesa” is an international brand in a quite competitive market, such as that of America. What pushed you to expand across the pond?
I inherited a name, and I thought that it was high time for me and my siblings to solidify that name and open up to new opportunities. I liked the idea of a place in New York where people could find traditional Roman flavours and dishes, and that entirely Italian way of making people feel like a guest in your home. In the time it takes to eat a plate of pasta, I wanted people to truly enjoy that warm atmosphere, rich with the traditions of our country; I wanted Italy and Italian-ness to be felt in every detail. I knew I had the right experience to be able to bring the Antica Pesa brand far from Italy and make it international.
That was followed by an opening in Doha. The Middle East has rules and needs that are completely different than those of the United States. So, one more challenge, what’s the balance sheet look like?
It’s more than positive. The Made in Italy brand, especially in the kitchen, is always a hit. Our hospitality and detailed knowledge about the food we offer have allowed us to overcome this challenge as well. Fundamentally, however, it’s the respect we have for our customers, for the culture and the food of their country. Which is why we offer, along with traditional Roman cuisine, dishes which use local, seasonal ingredients.
You recently received the Excellence NAIF Italia Award, presented personally by our editor-in-chief Luigi Lauro, for the excellent quality of what you offer. How did it feel to receive this important recognition?
It was really intense! A recognition that was the result of so many years of hard work. NIAF is a foundation which I know quite well as it represents the Italian-American community in the USA, oversees a lot of coordination processes between Italy and the United States and is a bridge between the social, economic and cultural activities of the two countries. This is why receiving this award was perhaps the best moment of my career so far.
Antica Pesa is an exclusive place frequented by American stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Bradley Cooper, Sharon Stone, Richard Gere, even Mick Jagger and Madonna, to name a few. Can you tell us any anecdotes?
I have plenty of anecdotes, but I’ve learned that the most important thing you can do to gain the trust of these celebrities as customers is to see and immediately forget. I have profound respect for DiCaprio, De Niro, and all the stars that frequent my restaurant. In a short timespan, they put their privacy in your hands and you never betray that trust. Our way of doing things has ensured that a few of them have remained customers for quite some time.
Your next goal?
I have a bit of news which I want to announce here, even if I can’t go into details: between
2017 and 2018 we will open two new restaurants, again in the United States and in the Middle East.
Who is the guest you’d like to see seated at a table in your restaurant?
Unfortunately that dream is impossible by now. I would have wanted to see Rita levi Montalcini in my restaurant.
Leonardo DiCaprio is one Hollywood star who has consistently shown a deep commitment and sensitivity to environmental issues. Inspired by the importance of “raising awareness on the most pressing environmental issues of our time”, in 1998 the actor established the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, an environmental organisation whose goal is the longterm health and wellbeing of the land and all its inhabitants. Through significant collaborative partnerships and generous donations, the grantmaking programme at the LDF supports innovative projects which protect wild animal and plant species which are vulnerable and at risk of extinction, trying to restore the balance of ecosystems and threatened communities.
by Francesca Macchia