Tuscan Kitchen Expands

Mangia to one and all!

In late February, a crowd hovered outside the Tuscan Kitchen on Lafayette Road in Portsmouth. It was opening day for the restaurant empire’s third location. Owner Joe Faro was on hand with friends and family, including Mary Ann Esposito and Billy Costa. Faro’s son cut the red ribbon and Faro waved his arm saying, “Welcome to my house — my house is your house, come on in!” And that’s what the Tuscan Kitchen experience is all about — gracious Italian hospitality.

Faro tells the story of how this location came about. It was Esposito, famed cookbook author and “Ciao Italia” host, who “planted the seed” about opening a Portsmouth location, especially since she lives in nearby Durham. Faro relates that about three years ago he noticed an available property on Lafayette Road. It had been abandoned for 15 years and once housed the old Jerry Lewis Cinema that he frequented as a student at the University of New Hampshire. You wouldn’t recognize it now.

“We only used the shell,” says Faro. The space is rich in ambiance with walnut trim, a warm palette, reclaimed farmhouse wood tables and dim lighting, all perfect for intimate dining. The space is broken up with a long bar and high-top seating in front. Beyond is general seating with mostly cozy booths. Within sight of almost every table in the house is the open kitchen running along the back wall, along with a wood-burning brick oven for pizzas and roasting meats and vegetables. An adjoining room with two fireplaces provides space for special events or overflow at the dinner hour. Beyond that is patio dining with heaters, fire pits and more.

At 48, Faro is full of energy for building an empire that started with pasta. His family’s bakery business and a childhood immersed in hospitality was parlayed into his own pasta and sauce business, which he started even before graduating from UNH. Eighteen years ago he sold Joseph’s Gourmet Pasta and Sauces to Nestlé, and planned to retire to spend time with his wife and three children. Well, golf wasn’t his game, and within two years he had remodeled a failed restaurant in Salem to open the first Tuscan Kitchen in 2010.

For all the growth and brand building, the heart of Tuscan Brands is remaining authentic to Italian artisan foods. Faro and Executive Chef Joe Brenner have relationships with Italian cheesemakers, olive oil pressers and winemakers. The latter required three trips to taste a blend for the Super Tuscan, Tuscan Kitchen’s branded wine. All the bounty of Italy can be found at their Tuscan Market, which is situated just 100 yards from the Tuscan Kitchen in Salem. Entering the store is a feast for the eyes. Sausages wrapped in string hang from the ceiling and loaves of rustic bread are stacked within reach, while carcasses of lamb and quarters of beef are featured like pictures at an exhibition. There are cases filled with homemade pastas arranged in neat rows (including Faro’s famous lobster ravioli) and rounds of imported cheeses and stacks of housemade sausages. And then there are the desserts — beautiful cakes, Italian cookies and cannoli. The display of exquisite foods wraps the room and ends at the must-visit gelato station, a jewel case of colors and flavors. In between are aisles of imported canned and jarred Italian specialty foods, selections of wine, truffle oils, authentic extra virgin olive oils and olives from bright green to black. To make it a true one-stop shop, fresh produce is offered to make any home-cooked meal complete. It’s this wealth of beautiful and authentic Italian food that’s at the heart of the Tuscan experience. It’s not just home cooks that shop here — everything in the market is available to the Tuscan Kitchen chefs. Quite the pantry, indeed.

The Market at the Portsmouth location is adjoined to the restaurant and is scheduled to open in June. The café in the market is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, offering a more casual dining experience than the main restaurant, which can get very busy. As for dining in the main room, the menu will be the same as the Salem and Burlington locations, except Portsmouth’s chef will offer more seafood options.

Faro is the consummate entrepreneur. Tuscan Brands now employs 500 people and has a mission to give back to the community through worthy causes.

How does the maestro juggle all of his projects? “I don’t micro-manage — I let great people be great. I don’t want to be the smartest person in the world anymore,” he says. As the owner of 10 supercars, retiring is certainly an option, but that’s not happening anytime soon. “I want to build something for my children and show them the power of hard work,” he says.

Now that the Portsmouth location is open, Faro can turn his attention to the Boston Seaport location scheduled to open next year. And then there’s the Tuscan Village. A few years ago, Faro bought all 128 acres of the shuttered Rockingham Park Racetrack. He envisioned an urban village setting with 600 units of housing, extensive shopping outlets and, of course, a few branded restaurants, including Joe’s Steak House. This project will be the largest of its kind on the East Coast. The land is being cleared as we speak. Oh, the power of pasta.

Categories: Features