Passionate chef and Oak Park resident, Ciro Parlato, has plans to make his mark on the local culinary scene, but funding challenges are slowing his ability to make his dreams of opening a restaurant a delicious reality.
“The banks, they slam the door in my face,” said Parlato. “I have everything ready to go. The space, the design, the business plan and village approval.”
Parlato aims to open a small Italian eatery with a robust carryout business in the heart of the Pleasant District. Nestled between Anfora Wine Merchants and Carnivore, Ciro is set to arrive at 1048 Pleasant St. in the former party room affiliated with Serenitea. He is keenly aware of the vibrant collection of restaurants rooted in the Pleasant District and believes Ciro will be complementary to others in the area and add to the growing connectivity between businesses owners.
In an optimistic move, Parlato has already hung a sign announcing his namesake restaurant even though he is still attempting to raise $90,000 to meet the equity requirements to secure the $300,000 SBA loan he needs to complete the restaurant buildout. A GoFundMe (https://gofund.me/23ce14ce) has been established to help him meet his goal.
“I literally grew up in a kitchen. My first toys were made out of pasta dough,” said Parlato. “I lived in a one room apartment where my grandmother was constantly cooking. She would give me pieces of dough to play with when I was young. One of my earliest memories is the smell of flour and eggs.”
Parlato was raised by his maternal grandparents in Corbara, Italy—a small town located 10 minutes outside of Pompeii in the Campania region of south-western Italy. The town, with a population of just 2,500, is well known for growing Corbarino cherry tomatoes prized for their low acidity and high sugar content. The tomatoes are used in an array of Neapolitan dishes Parlato learned to cook by his grandmother’s side and perfected when he entered hospitality school at age 14. During the five years he spent in school he learned the hospitality business from top to bottom while developing a passion for regional Italian cooking and high-end dining. He spent the summers working in various establishments throughout Campania to expand his knowledge. Parlato racked up hours cooking in school cafeterias, elegant hotels and casual trattorias before a chance meeting in 2012 changed his course.
While in Pompeii, Parlato stopped in a café for an espresso when he overheard a couple of young men discussing an upcoming trip to Miami.
“I felt something in my gut when I heard the word ‘Miami’ and I knew I had to go and make my American dream,” said Parlato. “I asked them if I could meet them in Miami and was on a plane two days later.”
Parlato, who didn’t speak English, arrived in Miami full of hope and armed with a piece of paper on which his travel agent had written several common phrases and the address of his hotel. He was immediately struck by “how big the world was” compared to Corbara and felt, “like a punch to the stomach,” that the United States could provide every opportunity to achieve his goals. Within 24-hours he had a job working in a Miami kitchen and three years later made his way to Chicago where he started working at Carnivore as a butcher and taking private chef gigs around Oak Park. He also has an “A” tattooed on his forearm to celebrate the associates degrees in accounting and business administration he went on to earn at Triton College.
“A chef’s passion comes from curiosity,” said Parlato. “I wouldn’t be here today if I wasn’t curious and determined. Now I want to do my own thing with hospitality. For me to reach my goal I need people in Oak Park to know who I am and understand my dream. I have a lot to give this community.”
Parlato envisions Ciro to be a bright and welcoming counter service establishment with a walk-up window suitable for serving coffee and gelato. Inside a long dining counter will be the only divide between the open kitchen and customers. In addition to offering on-site cooking classes, Parlato will churn out a rotating array of artisan sandwiches, prepared foods and house made pasta dishes with regional specificity and personal ties. He is especially excited to bring his grandmother’s recipes to Oak Park. Her baked gnocchi features handmade potato-based pasta in thick tomato sauce with ricotta and smoked mozzarella.
“Ciro will be a place where everything is happening right in front of you,” said Parlato as he scanned the empty room. “Oak Park knows what real Italian food tastes like and I cannot wait to give it to them.”
The passionate chef is planning to host pop up dinners in the new year in hopes of getting his food out in the community. Follow ciro_oakpark on Instagram to stay up to date.