Italian roots run deep but family ties run deeper for chef Rocco Pezzano and his son Marco Pezzano.
Bringing together childhood memories and traditional Italian flavors, the Pezzanos opened Sfizio Modern Italian Kitchen, a neighborhood restaurant from the ground up in North Phoenix last summer.
True to the kitchen’s motto, the Pezzanos are proud of Sfizio’s homemade sauces, pasta and bread.
“Italian cuisine is not that complicated. It’s about the ingredients. That’s why we spend a little more time making our own pasta, making our own bread,” says Rocco, reiterating that a plate can be beautiful but its taste comes from the ingredients.
However, the best dish requires more than just the right ingredients and a chef with years of experience. It comes down to a chef’s love for their craft. For Rocco, catering is the only thing he knows well and cooking is his passion.
“In almost everything I do, I put my heart into it,” he says.
After a long career as a chef and restaurateur, Rocco closed the door on this chapter of his life for almost a decade. Then, years later, his son came up with the idea of opening a restaurant together.
In February 2021, they rented the space. In August, Sfizio welcomed its first customers.
“We had a lot of problems with the aid at the start. I was there about seven days a week cooking. A week before I opened, I had no employees,” says Rocco. “I had no one in the kitchen, so my plan B was to make two pizzas, two pastas and two salads – I said that’s it, that’s all I’m going to do.”
From humble beginnings, the Pezzanos have experimented and expanded their menu to include a wide variety of starters, salads, pastas, pizzas, desserts and most recently an original creation called Sfizini.
“We’re especially proud because it’s unique to us. It’s something we invented ourselves, and we obviously named it after our own place,” Marco says.
Sfizini is a vibrant and flavorful tribute to Rocco’s upbringing and his mother’s cooking. Also in the kitchen, she would prepare a one-time bite for the family as a light snack before the main meal, he explained. She would often take a piece of bread, scoop out the center, and fill the inside with classic Italian ingredients.
Sfizini is Rocco’s version of it, combining fresh bread and flavors of yesteryear to bring his childhood memories to life. Customers can choose from eight different flavors, such as meatballs and mozzarella, Italian sausage or sautéed eggplant, or choose a combination of three.
Opening a restaurant sparked a truly healthy and wonderful relationship with his father, Marco says. As business partners, they found a new layer to their already close bond.
“It’s an interesting dynamic that goes from being a kid listening to your parents to now telling them what to do sometimes,” Marco says. “I saw a lot of maturity and growth in me. I grew up from being, you know, a kid with little or no responsibility to now being involved in this, and I really admire him.
Rocco and Marco recognize each other’s strengths and that has made all the difference in finding the balance they need to run the business together, the duo say.
Marco, currently an architecture student at Arizona State University, influenced the restaurant’s modern design and chic aesthetic, while his father Rocco crafted a distinctive menu true to his southern Italian lineage.
Mutual understanding and genuine mutual respect accelerated early business decisions and necessary restaurant renovations. The general assumption that opening a family restaurant can be difficult doesn’t seem to phase them.
For the Pezzanos, their motto, “Family first, then family running a business,” is how they stay focused on their values and priorities. Eager to spread the Pezzano name, Rocco and Marco focus on perfecting their craft, the Sfizio experience and the food they want to be known for – encouraging each other with the phrase “Let’s take it to the next level”.
Marco helps his father adapt to today’s restaurant world, dependent on social media.
“At the time when [dad] ran restaurants, it was basically essential that you had good food because there was nothing else to rate your restaurant. There was no social media, there was no buzz, there was no trend… it was just, “Hey, this place serves really good food, let’s go eat there. Now restaurants have become more of an experience,” says Marco, “we try to do both here. »
While hype or “buzz” is one aspect they would like for their restaurant, it is not all they want. Many trendy restaurants offer mediocre food, but you go for the unique atmosphere or experience, Marco says. Sfizio aims to combine both experience and a high quality menu, two aspects of the restaurant industry that are equally important to them.
“From my perspective, I think one thing in the restaurant industry today is different from a long time ago, is that you lose a lot of personality. It’s not often you go to a restaurant and know it’s a family establishment, but you see the family in there,” Marco says.
At Sfizio, Rocco and Marco work side by side in the restaurant they built together. From the Italian menu derived from Rocco’s roots to the bold sign Marco built that proudly reads “Sfizio” on the wall, Sfizio embodies the bond of this father and son duo.
Sfizio Modern Italian Kitchen
21050 North Tatum Boulevard, Unit 110
Opening hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday