Pictured are Gigio and Riccardo Longo at Gran Caffe L’Aquila
Since the opening of its doors in December 2014, Gran Caffe L’Aquila has become a hub for authentic Italian food, wine, and culture in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square. But Riccardo Longo ’89, Founding Partner and Director of Regional Cuisine and Wine, and Gigio Longo ’94, Director of Operations, along with Riccardo’s co-founders Stefano Biasini and Michele Morelli, have also been committed to providing relief funds for the Italian town of Amatrice, that was completely devastated by a 6.1 magnitude earthquake in August.
“When we heard the news of the tragedy, we contacted the mayor of Amatrice to see what we could do to help,” said Riccardo. “Amatrice is a small town with a couple thousand people but it is famous in the culinary world for its dishes and chefs. It’s also very close to where my partners are from in L’Aquila. So we wanted to do what we could to provide funds for families displaced by the earthquake. Giving 2,000 people shelter was the main concern.”
In September, Gran Caffe L’Aquila hosted a dinner fundraiser at which 100% of sales were directly sent to the people of Amatrice.
“We hosted a dinner where we invited guests to enjoy a re-creation of a typical Sunday dinner in Amatrice,” said Riccardo. “Our recipes for the evening were directly from grandmothers in Amatrice and I paired wines with each dish. The event was sold out, but our customers were generous, so we raised nearly €13,000, with half from the dinner fundraiser and the other half from additional donations.”
Throughout the month of September the restaurant also offered the town’s famous dish, bucatini amatriciana, and those proceeds were added to the relief funds. Gran Caffe L’Aquila regularly presents a specialty menu where it features an Italian city’s distinctive regional cuisine, so it served an Amatrice sampling to further supplement the total donation pool.
To give the check to the mayor on behalf of the people of Philadelphia and survey the damage themselves, Riccardo and Michele Morelli traveled to Amatrice in October. Mayor Pirozzi was so touched by the kindness of Gran Caffe L’Aquila and its supporters, he agreed to visit Philadelphia himself for a thank you dinner and follow-up fundraiser in November.
The partners of Gran Caffe L’Aquila felt so strongly compelled to assist with Amatrice relief funds because the Amatrice recovery closely aligned to the story of the restaurant’s origin. The Italian city of L’Aquila, just about an hour south of Amatrice, was also destroyed by an earthquake in 2009. The home of the original Gran Caffe L’Aquila was located on Piazza Duomo in the center of the city. Riccardo met Stefano and Michele in 2012 and offered to reopen their restaurant in Philadelphia.
“It took about three years to design and build the restaurant in Italy, and then to ship it over to Philadelphia,” said Gigio. “The vision was for the new Gran Caffe L’Aquila to be a destination for authentic Italian culture, so we had star chefs at each division — the bar, gelato lab, our in-house coffee roasting, kitchen, and wine program.”
The second floor of the restaurant serves as a culture and language school as well, taught in partnership with members of the American-Italy Society of Philadelphia. Often, the history of an Italian region can be told through its food and wine, as the identities of many cities can be demonstrated through the ingredients in their cuisine.
Educating, sharing, and honoring authentic Italian experiences is highly important to the Longo brothers.
“Our family is from the Amalfi coast,” said Gigio. “Riccardo was born there, I was born in the U.S., but we were privileged to spend our summers in Italy and grow up with two cultures. We have a cultural school and partner with the American-Italy Society because the portrayal of Italian food and wine is inaccurate. We don’t have chicken parm or spaghetti and meatballs because they were created in America. The vision was to bring a truly authentic piece of Italy to Philadelphia to educate Italian-Americans and lovers of true Italian wine and culture through the food, but we also screen all Italian soccer, play iconic Italian music, and more.”
For their contributions and leadership in the Italian community in Philadelphia, Riccardo and the Longo family were celebrated by the Italy-America Business Council and Network at the Festival of Five Kingdoms on February 25. Riccardo was awarded the 2017 International Economic Award for bringing authentic Italian culture to Philadelphia with the import of the earthquake ravaged landmark Gran Caffe L’Aquila. The entire Longo family was then honored for their decades of service to the community.
“With the business, there is lots of emotion and love,” said Riccardo. “At one point, we stopped looking at costs and we were not thinking just about profit. We think about our impact on the city. Wherever we can help, we do. We always will be involved with the Italian community, the Philadelphia community, just trying to contribute as we can.”
Riccardo Longo and Gigio Longo have a younger brother Roberto Longo ’98 who also attended MFS.
To donate to Amatrice Disaster Relief, please visit grancaffelaquila.com/join-movement-rebuild-amatrice.