The Landini brothers’ eyes twinkle when they tell the story. It unfolds in a storybook kind of way; two brothers growing up in post-war Italy in a scrubby fishing village, busing tables and dreaming of culinary success in America.
Their working partnership ends in Old Town as the brothers complete a successful and harmonious 28-year run as joint owners of a staple on the city’s dining scene, Landini Brothers at 115 King Street, which has satisfied countless diners over the years with its Tuscan-styled fare. “It’s been a record being brothers and business partners for the better part of 40 years,” Franco Landini said over lunch last week. “We have disagreements, but never fights.”
On Oct. 5, Piero Landini, 57, sold his equal-share interest in the restaurant to big brother Franco, 63, and his son Noe Landini, 26, who will retain 51 percent and 49 percent ownership, respectively. Bartender Kathy Coombs, who’s worked for the Landini’s since 1975, called it a “passing of the baton to the next generation of Landinis.”
The brothers have worked together off and on since they were 13. Growing up in the hard-scrabble village of Porto Santo Stefano on the Tuscan coast, their home was filled with the sing-song companionship of four brothers, a sister and two doting parents. “Our family was tight,” Piero said. “Always has been.”
Work at such a young age was borne of necessity. Their father Francesco was a carpenter, their mother Elia was a homemaker who taught the boys how to prepare pasta dishes, mostly seafood fresh off the fishing trawlers. “We were dirt poor and our town was very poor,” Franco said. “You had to work.”
The Landini boys picked up proficiencies in English, German, French and a few other dialects, and landed summer jobs as deck hands on the mega-yachts passing through to Sicily and St. Tropez. After high school both enrolled in merchant marine school and set out to see the world. Franco worked as a waiter on an ocean liner and Piero hooked on to an ARCO supertanker as a navigation specialist. “There was nothing exotic about where there’s oil: Nigeria, Liberia, the Persian Gulf,” Piero recalled.
Franco retired from the merchant marine in 1971 and moved to Old Town, earning money busing tables at The Warehouse and the now-defunct Portofino and King’s Landing restaurants. The brothers kept in touch and dreamed of one day opening their own restaurant in America, one successful enough to buy their own yacht. Flash forward 45 years, and through hard work, pluck and perserverence, both dreams came true.
In 1975, Piero came to America for the first time to visit his brother and crashed in Franco’s apartment on S. Pitt Street. Piero planned to stay for a month, but stayed another 33 years, helping his brother launch a succession of restaurants before Landini Brothers. “I just really fell in love with this town,” Piero said. “It was very European, very relaxed.”
In the beginning
In 1976, with the help of Old Town investors they started their first restaurant, Pellicano, a fancy Italian trattoria at 100 King Street with a pizzeria on the second floor. Joining them were Coombs and Susan Hergenather, two bartenders who memorized every face, every name, every cocktail preference and are still with the Landini’s today. Rigoberto Ramos also joined the brothers that year as a 16-year-old dishwasher, and is with them 31 years later, as head chef.
In 1979, the Landini’s sold their interest in Pellicano when they heard that space where a tourist shop specializing in Dutch clogs had become available across the street. They assumed the lease on 115 King Street, a historic structure built in 1775, and their parents came over from Italy and set to work on the space, which was badly in disrepair.
“We had no money, but we had a lot of willpower and nothing to lose,” Piero said. The night before opening, the brothers sat flat broke on the floor of their apartment, their credit cards tapped out and eating from a can of tuna fish. The day Landini Brothers opened, the brothers had no money to buy liquor to stock the bar, but two Old Town neighbors chipped in $500 loans. On Oct. 5, 1979, Landini Brothers was born. “That first night the place was packed,” Piero recalled. “We felt like a million dollars.”
Landini Brothers has remained packed almost every day since, making both brothers millionaires. The power boat came later. By their thumbnail calculations, the restaurant has served 2.4 million meals over 28 years. Careful to give back to the community which nurtured them, they donate over 1,000 meals to charities each year. “It’s been a good run…beyond imagination,” Piero said. “Our work has been rewarded very well. Alexandria has been very good to us.”
Piero met his future wife Mary 26 years ago, and today have two daughters, Christina, 26, and Nicole, 25, who serves as Landini’s maitre d’. Piero Landini plans to take it easy for a couple of years, playing golf and traveling the world. “Now I have the luxury of doing nothing,” he said.