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Meet Nino Barbalace of Zia Gianna Caffè in Dorchester

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nino Barbalace.

Nino, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I was born in Italy in Messina (Sicily) and I lived there until I moved to the USA about 7 years ago. I grew up in a big Italian household, with my father, my aunt (Zia) Gianna, my uncle, my cousin, and my grandparents, and we always had friends stopping by, eating and enjoying the food my Zia Gianna had prepared for them. We had such long, crowded, noisy meals that always ended in the living room sipping some caffè.

I’ve always loved food, and even worked in our family restaurant, but as I grew older I decided to pursue my other passion: architecture. I went to university, got my Ph.D. in History and Conservation of Historic Heritage, then moved to Cambridge to work as a Post-doc on a research project focused on the energy retrofit of the historic Victorian houses of Boston.

In time, architecture was no longer enough for me; I needed a change and wanted to go back to my original passion: food. So, I quit my career in academia and enrolled in the Cambridge School of the Culinary Arts in Cambridge to get a formal education. After that, I worked as a personal chef for a few years. As demand and my passion grew, I decided that I wanted a space on my own, a place that would allow me to bring the flavors and colors of my land to Boston. And that’s where I am now! Starting a new adventure with Zia Gianna Italian Bakery and Caffè, a restaurant named after the most important person in my life, the person who raised me and taught me everything I know about food.

Has it been a smooth road?
Opening a restaurant is incredibly hard work much harder than I could have ever imagined. But it’s exciting and thrilling at the same time.

We have only been open for two months, so right now our major challenges are visibility and the basic financial difficulties that come with opening a new restaurant. If we are not visible, people won’t know we exist, and if new customers don’t come, we won’t be able to sell enough to survive. Because our goals are quality and authenticity, everything we serve is created from scratch. In short, this means that our food is more expensive than pre-made or frozen food, and our margins are much smaller than, say, a restaurant whose only goal is quantity. We are lucky to be in a great community, with wonderful customers who have given us excellent feedback, but we will have to continue to work to bring new people in daily. Only time will tell!

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Zia Gianna is an Italian Bakery and Caffè that aims to bring the flavors and recipes of my homeland to Boston, to give people a little taste of Sicily. Caffè Zia Gianna offers a friendly atmosphere and serves as a neighborhood caffè where people can come with their friends and families, meet other people, talk to me, ask me questions about the food, share a cup of coffee, and have a sandwich or maybe some dessert.

Our pride is the bread we bake in-house: a traditional Sicilian “brioscia.” This Sicilian semi-sweet bread is flavored with citrus and vanilla and is traditionally eaten for breakfast with “granita caffè con panna” (coffee slush with whipped cream) or in the afternoon filled with delicious gelato. At Zia Gianna all our sandwiches are served with this bread!

A large part of the menu is about espresso (or caffè, as we say in Italian): espresso, cappuccino, latte, and mocha, but also some variations of espresso that are typical in Italy like “nutellino” and “nutellone” a special version of cappuccino with Nutella!

We also have a growing list of traditional Italian pastries: pies, cakes, tiramisu, tarts, and more.
Soon we will also launch themed, ticketed dinners during which guests will be able to try more traditional Italian meals. One step at the time!

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Michael Goderre
Devin Dobbins McCarthy

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