Owner Michele (Mee-KAY-lah) Corrado first came to America in 1963 and three years ago, after a lifetime of running and working in elite restaurants, decided to go back to his homeland of Italy. The experience left a bad taste in the stylish restaurateur's mouth. Apparently, you can't go home again.
"My thing was to always to go back to Italy where I was born. Biggest mistake of my life. I went back to Italy. I didn't like it," Corrado said simply. "Once you live in America, you want to live in no (other) country in the world."
His Villa Capri Ristorante Italiano Pizzeria & Bar in Cape Haze is already noted for its spotless white-tablecloth service and superlative Southern Italian food at affordable prices. A perfectionist, his accent remains noticeable even after roughly five decades in America as he switches languages fluently while snapping out questions and commands to staff in Italian.
Owner Michele Corrado
Corrado opened his restaurant in a spot where two previous Italian operations had short tenures despite quality offerings, particularly from talented Chef Babette Golden. Corrado said he and Villa Capri will not fail and early reviews are impressive.
"Everybody said there will be nobody in the summer," he said. "But I did very well."
QUESTION: Why did you first want to come to America 49 years ago?
Michele Corrado at a glance
Occupation: restaurateur at Villa Capri
Open: May 15
Specialty: Southern Italian cooking
Motto: Always authentic, always made to order, always Italian
Chef: Stefano Castaldi, been with Corrado 17 years. "He's like my son," Corrado said.
Home country: Italy
Came to America: July 29, 1963
Residence: Cape Haze
Discovered Boca Grande: The first day when I got to (Villa Capri). It's very, very nice. I like it. I go to church with Father (Jerome Carosella at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church). Small church. Very nice.
ANSWER: Because everybody wants to come to America. They did then. Today, everybody wants to come to America. This is the best country in the world. There is no other country like America.
Q: What got you into the restaurant business?
A: I started when I was 15. It was very tough. I emigrate from my town in Italy to Switzerland. I learned this business in Geneva, St. Moritz and Lugano. To learn this business 56 years ago was worse than being in the Navy or the Marines. It was very, very, very tough.
Q: What is your food philosophy?
A: You must have the best ingredients you can find. I get all my ingredients for what I use here from an Italian company in Miami. They deliver it. They are the only ones with my product. When people come to eat it, they go out and tell other people. We've been doing well since we opened May 15. Come October, I'm going to have a line out to there (pointing to his parking lot). A great, big line. And what is it? The good food.
Q: The restaurant business is demanding of a person's time. Is that why you've never married?
A: I'm here at 6:30 in the morning. At 1 o'clock I go to take a shower and shave and come back. I stay until 10 o'clock. I've lived with a lot of different women. But some, they get extremely jealous (laughs). So the best way is to stay single.
Q: Do you have a favorite Italian dish?
A: Pasta. The French say they have one different cheese for every day of the whole year. In Italy, we can have two different pastas every day and there are a few thousand left at the end of the year. It is 2,000 years to eat all of them. I like veal, chicken and steaks - I like all of them - but pasta is very sensuous. It's like having a love affair with pasta. So, you've got to have pasta.
Q: Do you dream in Italian or English?
A: (Smiles) I don't know. I know I dream (laughs) I have a lot of dreams.
Q: What are your goals for Villa Capri?
A: Is to be an absolute smash success. Period. I never fail. I know I will not fail. I've been open a few months and I did not lose money. A lot of people, they lose money (in the off-season).
Q: What would define success for you?
A: Success is to stand in the door and see beautiful people in line to come to eat and be very, very happy and to be busy.
Q: How important is Chef Stefano Castaldi to Villa Capri's success?
A: Don't ever, ever open a restaurant if you don't know cooking. I was a chef before I was an owner. This is Southern Italian cooking. You want to open a restaurant? Make sure you are a good cook yourself or get one that is good. And they cost a lot of money. Plus, to run a successful Italian restaurant, you have to be Italian! It's that simple. You can't be Mexican, you can't be Yugoslavian, you can't be Russian. You've got to be Italian (laughs)!
Q: Your vast experience has been seasoned internationally. How important is it to the product on Villa Capri's tables?
A: You get better and you learn every day. There is no obstacle. When I first came to America, I worked in every city in the United States of America. The chef in Switzerland, when I left, he said you make a big mistake. You should never go to America because they don't know what they are doing with the food. And the guy was right in 1963. He said if you must go to America, don't get stuck in one place. So I went to New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago in the best places there still is today in America.
Q: How important is timing to serving a good meal?
A: In the kitchen, timing is important when cooking and serving. It's the most important thing. Timing.
Q: What's the best restaurant you've ever eaten at?
A: Sabatini Restaurant in Florence. It's an institution. Good restaurants in America after 30, 40 and 50 years, they die even if it was an institution. They die at the end because the owner leaves it to the son and the son is an idiot who doesn't know what he's doing.
Q: Who's going to follow you?
A: (Laughs) Uh, nobody. Or my nephew, who has got to learn, Antonio Scotto, the son of my partner, Vicenzo Scotto, who had another restaurant together with me in Miami. But he's got to listen and learn. Kids today think they know everything and they know nothing. They need to shut up and listen. Respect is extremely important to me. To learn you got to shut up, listen and steal everything with your eyes. Use your mind.
Q: Is your partner the reason you're back in business in America?
A: Vinnie, my friend, he called me in Italy and said there's this restaurant in Placida. I say where is Placida? I came in February from Italy to see the place. I check it for about a month. The place was doing absolutely nothing. There were some people in the bar drinking for nothing, cocktail hour, two-for-one. The guy must have lost a lot, lot, lot of money.
Q: Do you enjoy what you do?
A: To be a success, you have to love what you do. I treat my restaurant with passion. Like if I was making love to a woman, I really get involved. I'm very, very hard to work with. I like things my way because my way they good. The other way doesn't work. You've got to be able to see the mistake before it happens.
Q: Do you have any hobbies besides the restaurant?
A: Women. I love women. I've met a lot of gorgeous women in my life. I was very, very lucky.