Sfizi Cafe— a cozy and elegant Italian restaurant frequented by loyal regulars— first opened its doors in Falls Church in July 2011. I spoke with owner Lino Ricciardi about what separates his restaurant from the rest.
Ricciardi, 62, has been in the restaurant business since he was 16 years old, when he moved to the United States from Italy.
Read the interview below:
How did you become interested in the restaurant business?
I’ve always been involved in one way or another. It was one of my first jobs. When I first came here, my father found me this job as a dishwasher. From there, I enjoyed the restaurant business and at some point became committed full-time.
What makes your restaurant different from other Italian restaurants?
We are a lot more than just a restaurant here. We are a wine shop. All our wines are from Italy exclusively. We have a small deli— meats and cheeses— and we have a small market specialized in Italian products, Italian music, Italian visuals.
As I say, the proof is in the pudding. I’m very strict about the cuisine and doing it the classic way it should be done. What’s different about this restaurant is we represent all the regions in Italy. I copy regional favorites, dishes that have been famous for generations— tiramisu, buffalo mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano, etc.
It’s more of a lifestyle, rather than just a restaurant. People come, we watch soccer games on TV… I spend a lot of time here so I wanted it to be somewhere I truly enjoy being.
What is your favorite aspect of your business— deli, wine, cooking?
All of it, actually. I like that it combines all the parts— you have to know all of the Italian products.
How many employees do you have?
It varies, but around a dozen.
What is your favorite dish to cook and your favorite dish to eat?
My favorite food is whatever I’m in the mood for at that particular time. I love pasta, I love steak, I eat pretty much everything.
I don’t do much cooking, but when I do cook I can make any dish I like. That’s the reason we call it ‘sfizi’— ‘sfizi’ means ‘whim.’ A special treat, a craving, something you give yourself as a reward. And that’s what people do, whether it’s a cannoli or a beautiful bottle of wine.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.