There are few places in the restaurant world that can say they've been around as long as La Fontanella, the family-style Italian eatery that made its home in Arcadia long before renovating old houses was the "cool" thing to do. This year, the restaurant, which opened in 1982, celebrates its 29th year in Phoenix.
At the center of it all is one woman, Isabella Mannone-Bertuccio, who came to Phoenix by way of Chicago, where her parents owned the original La Fontanella on the southwest side of the city. Back then, the family lived in the building above their restaurant space and Isabella learned to hard way -- by playing chef, hostess, and server all at once -- just how much it takes to run a successful dining establishment.
Today, we go all the way back to hear the story of Isabella's culinary beginnings, at her mother and father's restaurant in Chicago.
La Fontanella -- the little fountain
"How it started, my mother was a wonderful cook at home and she had a big family and she was always the one in charge from when she was a little girl. But she was in another field; she loved being a dressmaker and a tailor. She went to school for drafting and all that. But when she came to the states she was working in a tailor shop and then bought this building and opened up a restaurant because the first floor was empty.
"Let me backtrack: A friend who came to eat at our house for dinner recommended her because there was an emergency. The chef who was going to cook for a party of 300 in the church hall was in the hospital sick. So that's how it all started. She had never cooked for 300 people! She had only done 20 at home, maybe. So he recommended her because he knew how good her food was . . . and this was a Tuscan Italian group. My dad was from Tuscany and she was from Sicily."
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"One day, my dad had an argument with the main employee, who was the waitress, and another one left, too. So, I had to help them because, otherwise, they had to close their doors. I had to help them. It wasn't by choice -- it was just because, in my heart, I wanted to help my parents. They put everything they had into making this little restaurant. I started with whatever they needed to have done, and I was always planning on going to finish school. Well, the more I got into it, the more I needed to do it seemed. We were learning together what to do for a restaurant.
"I found that from my customers, I got great satisfaction. They loved me. They complimented me. They hugged and kissed me. They made me feel that I was important and that I was organizing something and when I wasn't there . . . It wasn't the same. It was that kind of reward. "
Tomorrow, we'll continue with the history of La Fontanella as Isabella continues to share her story.