Northwest NEWS

November 23, 1998

Features

Restaurant employees bring a bit of Italy home

by Deborah Stone, features writer

   Grazie Ristorante, an Italian restaurant chain, coffee company, and catering service, operating in Factoria, Tukwila, and Canyon Park in Bothell, believes in authentic experiences for its staff.

   Recently, some thirty employees from Grazie, including chefs, wait staff, bartenders, and managers, returned from a two-week stay in the land of pasta--Italy. They stayed in a 500-year-old villa, toured wineries, visited a secret field of truffles, and dined in some of Italy's finest restaurants. The employees took the trip on paid vacation time and paid for part of it from payroll deduction savings over the past year.

   This is the fourth trip Grazie staff has gone on dating back nine years. "The company encourages these trips to help broaden our horizons, absorb Italian culture, and bring a bit of Italy back to our jobs," says Barry Munro, general manager of Grazie in Canyon Park. "It gives employees some background on our cooking and a perspective on how things are done in the Old Country. Those who go immerse themselves in the experience and get to learn more about the people, their food, and what makes Italian cuisine so special."

   Munro was a part of the group who just returned, and he had only good things to say about Italian hospitality. "Everyone we met was warm and patient as they helped us to understand their culture," explains Munro. "Most of us couldn't speak much Italian, and the Italians couldn't speak much English, but we were able to make ourselves understood."

   Cesenatico, the small town that was the group's base, is located in the Northeast part of Italy, on the Adriatic Sea. According to Munro, Cesenatico is an old trading and fishing village with colorful canals, fish and cheese markets, and wonderful examples of old Italian architecture. The villa that was used had three floors and the group resided on the top two floors.

   "It was forty-six steps to the top floor," says Munro, "which kept me in good shape. The place had thick walls and not many modern amenities, but the rooms were good sized and they had lots of charm."

   The employees were able to explore Cesenatico at their leisure and also took trips to various popular spots in Italy. Highlights included wine tours to Allegrini and Zenato Wineries where the group was able to taste different wines and feast on five-course meals. "Dining in Italy is an event, and things run on Italian time," explains Munro. "They take their time and much attention goes into making the event memorable. When they serve you, they bring you a piece of art."

   The food Munro sampled ranged from pastas with an array of homemade sauces to seafood, grilled meats, and vegetables. "Italian food is more varied than Americans realize, and the flavors run from mild to spicy, with fresh herbs in everything. And all the different types of cheeses are incredible!"

   When the employees return from these trips, they experiment with ideas they have for creating new dishes for the restaurant's menu. According to Munro, Grazie will have a new menu after the first of the year that will incorporate some of these dishes.

   Currently, the restaurant is trying some different pizzas and special appetizers. "Everything we serve is made from scratch right in our restaurants," says Munro. "Some of our most popular dishes are our Seafood Fettuccini and Penne Pollo, but we offer many grilled and sautéed items, as well as tremendous desserts. We're a neighborhood restaurant and have a loyal customer base. An added attraction is that we have live jazz on Friday and Saturday evenings, which makes dining here more of an all-inclusive event."

   Grazie management plans to continue making the trips to Italy available to its employees every other year, as it feels the benefits of gaining another perspective of Italian culture are worthwhile and meaningful. "The staff brings a bit of Italy with them when they return and incorporate it in their work," says Munro. "Our customers then reap the benefits."