Italian Food Company owners Tony and Isis Wright never dreamed of opening a restaurant. With a love for Italy and good food, an opportunity the two of them couldn’t pass up.
Now, patrons stopping by the bar-trattoria-style restaurant indulge in authentic southern Italian cuisine, with freshly made Neapolitan pizzas (Naples-style), delicious boccas brimming with toppings, a selection homemade desserts and much more.
With alfresco dining under covered patios, guests look out over the landscaped garden as they eat lunch and dinner. They sit on Sicilian lava tables imported from the Mount Etna region. There’s even a table from Tony’s youth.
Opened in July 2021, Isis said, the restaurant incorporates various elements of the Italian culinary scene. She said the restaurant has characteristics similar to an Italian bar where people come for coffee and a croissant in the morning or a ball of rice in the afternoon. It’s not just a place to grab some food, but it’s also a place to chat with people you know.
The restaurant also adds aspects of an Italian pizzeria as well as a trattoria, which Tony describes as an Italian-style eating establishment that is generally less formal than a restaurant.
“When we launched, we didn’t know if we were going to open for breakfast and have paninis and sandwiches and pizza or if it was going to be a restaurant,” Tony said. “We were going to let the restaurant talk to us.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the course of the Wrights’ next venture. The previous year, Tony said the property, which once housed Papa Johns at MM 98 in the median, had caught his eye. He didn’t know exactly what he would do with the place if he decided to buy it. But he knew the place had potential.
In March 2020, the Wrights closed the property. Within weeks, the two discussed what was next. They looked at the Keys and thought of the things they liked. It was then that they turned to their summer stays in Naples, on the Amalfi Coast, in Sicily and in Taormina. The Wrights revel in blue seas and vibrant flowers. They are drawn to classic Italian ingredients, from hearty garden tomatoes and fresh local herbs to local olive oils and fresh sauce. Sharing the authenticity and warmth of trattorias and traditional Italian eaters became the Wrights’ wish.
Visiting Italian Food Company is a sensory experience, said Isis.
“Visually, there are so many beautiful things from Italy,” said Isis. “Then you eat the food and all these flavors burst in your mouth. Italian cuisine is very simple but tasty because you take your time. The moment you complete your entire dining experience, you feel something.
At Italian Food Company, all products come from Italy. The classic fresh Neapolitan pizza dough, shiny ripe tomato sauce, fresh Italian mozzarella and seasonal extra virgin olive oil are some of the must-haves. The classic style of Neapolitan pizza is marked by its signature fresh tomato sauce seasoned and baked.
Tony said some people think the pizza is too juicy in the middle. This is because all the ingredients are fresh.
“It has a great story when you talk about hundreds of years of making the same style of pizza the same way forever,” Isis said. “It’s going to be a lot lighter and thinner in the middle. It is a juicy Neapolitan pizza that is eaten with a knife and fork.
Italian Food Company’s pizzeria is run by the Wrights and imported Italian maestro in master pizza maker Leopoldo Figlioli. And recently the team added another talent with Executive Chef Ben Loftus. He began his career in the Florida Keys over 20 years ago, honing and promoting French cuisine during his tenure at Islamorada.
He was a foodie favourite, elevating the dining experience at Pierre’s to one of Florida’s finest restaurants. His later roles with Cheeca Lodge and Spa and The Hungry Tarpon expanded his techniques and styles to new American and Coastal cuisines. Tony said the addition of Loftus would allow them to bring classic and new Italian favorites to the Wrights’ next venture – a new restaurant located in the former Bentley in Islamorada.
“He has earned the respect and admiration of many people in the Florida Keys. I get calls almost daily with genuine enthusiasm and support for Ben’s new role with us,” Tony said.
Loftus said the Italian food company presents a unique opportunity to innovate, grow and bring a new cultural dining experience to the Keys.
“Italian cuisine is beautifully simple, with so many options to delight diners. We have already discussed preliminary additions to Islamorada’s menu, and we will add specialties to the menu as I have done in the past,” Loftus said.
Islamorada’s new restaurant will feature indoor dining, two unique sit-down bars and an expanded menu. Isis said they plan to keep their Key Largo location’s core menu at their new restaurant, but want to add seafood dishes. And the Wrights and Loftus said they’re looking to put back the former Bentley restaurant on the map.
“The building has a feeling,” Tony said. “Everyone comes to tell me stories. Even the owner of the old Bentley came here one day and asked if there was anything he could do. I said maybe we could bring some dessert. Everyone has such fond memories of this place.”
Isis said the new restaurant will open in 30 to 60 days.
More information at italianfoodcompany.com or follow @theitalianfoodcompany on Instagram.