Casa di Fratelli, which translates to “House of the Brothers,” is a standout Italian restaurant built on a solid foundation of four brothers from El Salvador who all do their part to keep diners coming back for expertly prepared Southern Italian cuisine.
Brothers Giovanni, Carlos and Antonio Valle are all partners in the restaurant, located on a busy stretch of Old Country Road in Westbury. “We’re a true family-run business,” says Giovanni, who adds that there are only two non family employees.
Giovanni explains that he and his brothers all came to the U.S. from El Salvador at different times. “I came here in 2000, when I was 16,” he says, adding that he didn’t know any English and began working at Angelina’s II in Syosset at first as a busboy. His brothers worked at La Ginestra in Glen Cove.
“Working in restaurants was our school,” Giovanni said, adding that none of the brothers attended culinary school.
Giovanni says he worked all areas of the restaurant, including in the kitchen, cooking and even learning to bartend. “I learned all areas of the restaurant, from top to bottom.”
Growing up on a large family farm in El Salvador helped Giovanni and his brothers get the feel for how to cook. “We were seven boys on the farm and sometimes it was necessary for everyone to take turns cooking,” Giovanni recalled. “There was always one boy left behind to help my mom cook for everyone.”
Asked if he or his brothers had envisioned working in the restaurant business, Giovanni said, “We never thought that this would be a future career.”
But in 2005, Giovanni’s older brother Emilio opened La Spada Italian restaurant in Huntington, near the Walt Whitman Mall, which years later changed its name to Militos. Giovanni helped to manage Militos for nine years.
Eventually, Giovanni said, “it was our dream to have our own place…and we did this as a family, my brothers got together, and we found this location and we’ve been open here for about five years.”
Casa di Fratelli opened in 2017 and continues as a family-run operation with Giovanni helping in all areas from the kitchen to front-of-house operations, while Carlos handles executive chef duties, Antonio is sous chef, and brother Joel tackles salad prep and desserts.
Giovanni says that while he and his brothers are “very well acquainted” with cooking Spanish food, the decision to focus on Southern Italian cuisine was influenced by their de facto training.
“The owners of both La Ginestra and Angelina’s were both Sicilian and that steered us to Italian cuisine,” he says, adding that Casa’s current menu borrows from both for inspiration.
Menu highlights include eggplant lasagna, a popular specialty, as well as veal osso bucco, linguini with lobster, pappardelle Siciliana, and cavatelli forestiera, as well as chicken Francese, grilled pork chop and New York strip steak.
Traditional desserts include tiramisu, chocolate mousse cake, and cannoli.
Discussing effects of the pandemic, Giovanni says that it “nearly did us in.”
“We were so close to going out of business,” he says. “We had no business…every month we were racking up more and more debts. It was very shaky for a while…The whole family got hurt.”
He says the restaurant was closed for a few weeks and then they tried to shift to takeout, but that didn’t help much because Casa is “more of a dine-in spot,” due to the prices of most dishes.
Giovanni says places such as nearby Vincent’s Clam Bar were able to weather Covid much better because they also have a pizzeria.
“Pizzerias did very well because they’re already geared for almost full takeout business. But we are not,” he said.
He said that although the pandemic “hurt them a lot,” it helped that his landlord was very understanding and allowed them to not pay rent until they were able.
He adds that other landlords who didn’t cooperate with their tenants were forced to close. Cafe Formaggio, in nearby Carle Place, is an example.
“They had been doing well but were forced to close in the early days of the pandemic due to an uncooperative landlord.”
But despite current inflationary pressures, such as prices of various foods that are “basically double in cost,” business is basically back to normal.
“The weekends are very busy. “We’re back to normal, maybe a bit better. People are ready to party.”
Giovanni adds that while inflation is affecting them, he’s trying not to raise prices. “We’re eating a lot of the extra money we’re spending.”
“You can’t raise prices all the time,” he notes, saying that there are many shortages of foods, such as lamb, branzino, and other items that are hard to find now.
“Being family helps us,” he says. “During the pandemic, there were weeks when no one would take money home…and we would just help each other out.”
“Don’t get me wrong…it’s not easy sometimes working with family…but overall, it works.”
But, he says, restaurants are a difficult business.
“You really don’t see your family, even on holidays,” he says, adding that he frequently works more than 70 hours per week, seven days per week.
“The sacrifice you make with your family is tough,” he says, adding that most people don’t realize what it takes to run a restaurant and be successful. “It takes a lot.”
“You won’t get rich in the restaurant business, but you can make a living.”
Casa di Fratelli is located at 477 Old Country Rd., Westbury. It can be reached at 516-385-3700. Visit casadifratelli.com.
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