Not long after Robbie Felice opened his first restaurant, Viaggio, in Wayne, two years ago, when he was 26, he began dreaming of opening a second. First he developed his team and honed his skills at making salumi and pasta, eventually earning a place on NJM’s 2018 list of Top 30 Restaurants in the state.
On Sunday, October 7, his 28th birthday, Felice announced that he will open a second restaurant, to be called Osteria Crescendo, in Westwood, in early 2019. He is partnering with his father, Joe, who backed him at Viaggio (and recently turned 50). Unlike Viaggio, Crescendo will have a liquor license. Felice says he is not disclosing the exact location yet because he is taking over a restaurant, and its liquor license, that are still operating.
“Pastas will be a big part of the menu at Crescendo, as they should be in any Italian restaurant,” Felice says. “But the entrées will be different from Viaggio. I’m going to do a number of large entrées to share, like whole fish or large steaks and cuts of meat.
“In the bar area, we’ll be doing Italian street food. When I lived in Italy, for about four months in 2015, I traveled all around the country. I started in Milan and Bologna and Modena in the north and worked my way south. Everywhere you go, the cooking is different, but everywhere there is street food—largely fried foods like arancini (rice balls), fried vegetables, calamari or whatever is local. I remember a deep-fried mortadella sandwich that was wonderful.”
Viaggio does not have a wood-burning grill or oven, and neither will Crescendo. “I’m not going to do pizza,” Felice says, “but we’ll do small pizzette, quick little bites, part of the bar food idea. I haven’t got it all figured out yet.”
The dining room menu will “view Italy as a whole,” Felice says. “I love having a seafood dish from Sicily and a different kind of dish from Alto Adige in the north [bordering Switzerland and Austria]. If you narrow to one region, you’re narrowing your customer base.”
Crescendo’s interior will be designed by Lauren DiGenova of LRD Designs in Waldwick, the same firm that designed Viaggio.
Felice says his general manager and beverage manager will be Josh Strauss, an experienced bartender who has created cocktail programs for New Jersey restaurants, including Ani Ramen House in Jersey City.
“We’ve known each other since I was a baby,” Felice says. “We’ve both got that young spunk. Together we’ll be a dangerous team because we both have drive and ideas. When you find someone who excites you like that, it makes the whole project better.”
When Felice opened Viaggio in 2016, he took a space he could afford, in the T Bowl Shopping Center in Wayne. “There’s no there there in a strip mall, but we made it,” Felice says. “Who would have thought? Now we’re going into an actual downtown, where there’s a sidewalk and shopping and places to go.”
The search for a second location “has been a trip,” Felice says. “We’ve been trying to do this for over a year. We’ve had three or four places fall through. Me being as young as I am, at first I only saw the cooking in the pan. The other side is the business. How much goes into building a restaurant, finding a space, getting inside the building, the legal and financial stuff, everything and anything can happen. The business part is insane.”
But now that he has locked in a space, Felice is enjoying the fun part of the insanity, the planning.
“The word crescendo means growing, expanding,” he says. “We have staff who are looking for the next thing. It will be a big thing for my dad and I to decide who we want to put where, who to bring in, who to move up.
“It’s not just about me, it’s about the dining scene in New Jersey and opportunity for people, for some kid who right now is dreaming of being a chef here someday.”
Which is what Felice himself was not so long ago.Click here to leave a comment