Successful restaurateur & son of Sulmona
Today, the surname Frattaroli is as well known in the foody circles of Boston’s North End as it is in Sulmona. But we need to travel back 47 years to find out why.
In 1970, a young Filippo Frattaroli left Sulmona to seek his fortune abroad. His father and grandfather had both spent time working in the USA and had travelled back and forth between Italy and the States. Filippo chose Boston on the East coast of the USA as his destination as, like many Italian emigrants, he had extended family already settled there. As a 16-year-old he could have continued his education in Boston but he was keen to start work – even lying about his age to get his first job.
He was no stranger to work. Back in Sulmona, Filippo’s father had owned a mill and even as a very young child had worked in the family business. It was hard, physical work and he needed to grow up fast.
Now living in Boston Filippo soon found himself with not one but two jobs – working in construction during the day and washing dishes in a restaurant in the evenings and at weekends. However, it was in the restaurant business that Filippo’s heart lay, he watched and learnt, quickly advancing up the ranks to become a fully-fledged chef.
Several years passed and then in 1977, Filippo opened his own restaurant in Boston’s North End called ‘Ristorante Lucia’ named after his mother. At this point he was able to employ all of his family. His parents, brothers and sister all worked as part of the day-to-day operation of the restaurant but the ultimate responsibility for the business, including of course the financial risk, was his alone. A formidable sole endeavour for one so young. This first restaurant was naturally Abruzzo-inspired and helped the family stay connected to Sulmona and also to each other in those early years.
Ristorante Lucia prospered, then in 1981 after marrying Anna, Filippo opened his second ‘Ristorante Lucia’ but this time in the affluent Boston suburb of Winchester. It was here that they made their home and raised their four children. Each of them – as he had done – working alongside their parents in the family business. Over the years Filippo then established, sold and bought back a number of different restaurants until the point where he is now in partnership with his son Philip, a lawyer.
Boston has several ethnic neighbourhoods that lend both charm and a sense of global identity to the city. The North End is a close-knit Italian neighbourhood located in one of the most historical areas of the city. It is estimated that approximately twenty-two million tourists visit Boston each year and the North End is a prime destination for many of those visitors. The main street is Hanover St., where Filippo opened his first Ristorante Lucia in 1977. He also owns Filippo Ristorante on Causeway St. and right next door is Ducali Pizzeria & Bar which is owned by son Philip. Dotting the North End are several other restaurants that the extended Fratarolli family has subsequently opened, all of which sprang from Filippo’s original Lucia Ristorante.
There are many Italian-American groups in Boston – often tied to the specific city or town in Italy where they’re from. There’s “The Gizio Club” and “The Sulmona Club” and many others besides. Part of their mission is to share their particular feast day and traditions with others. It often seems that Italians abroad are much prouder to be Italian than the Italians back in Italy are.
Despite his success stateside, Filippo still feels a strong connection to the town where he was born. ‘Sulmo mihi patria est’ (Sulmona is my homeland) is a favourite expression. In the early days he enjoyed travelling back to Sulmona when he could but building a business didn’t allow him much time off. Later on – and especially when he was running a business that acted as one of the foremost culinary ambassadors of the region – it became more important to reconnect often.
He now travels back and forth between Sulmona and Boston several times a year but he misses the daily connection with Sulmona while in Boston. It’s where his culinary eduction began after all.
Today he owns an enviable piece of real estate in the heart of Sulmona. His intention had been to purchase part of his father’s ancestral home in the Arabona neighbourhood, but over many years that was sold off and so he had to search elsewhere.
That property was number 8 Piazza Minzoni – just off the city’s primary square called Piazza Garibaldi. Having walked past it many, many times as a child, when Filippo first saw inside, it far exceeded his expectations. Not many properties feature a 13th-century aqueduct incorporated into their walls! Thankfully Filippo’s family were wholeheartedly behind the project. A good thing too as the costs of renovation would perhaps have been better invested in a Boston property. Subsequently turning that property into a successful B&B enterprise resulted from a conversation with his Sulmona-based extended family and that business is now under the day-to-day management of a formidable team: Filippo’s cousin Franca and her son-in-law Davide Gigliotti. The property is now the successful B&B Sei Stelle but it’s actually the magnificent view from the terrace that steals the show.
Now Filippo’s family have a proper home here in Sulmona they get back as often as they can. When the children were younger they came for a long period every summer and the children participated in the Giostra Cavalleresca as members of the Borgo Santa Maria della Tomba team. They also try to visit over the Easter period and the terrace of the B&B provides the ultimate viewing point for the ‘Madonna che Scappa in Piazza’ held every Easter Sunday morning.
It’s unlikely that Filippo will return to Sulmona permanently though. He loves living in the USA and admits that the Italians have made a remarkable contribution to the American fabric which has in turn provided him with the type of opportunity that he could not have imagined in Italy.
Filippo believes that forming and maintaining relationships with the Abruzzesi abroad, city-by-city is the best way to spread the word and to promote not only the Giostra and the city of Sulmona, but the region of Abruzzo as a whole. Increasing the international appeal for Abruzzo is really the key here.
So what is the recipe for Filippo’s success? Hard work principally, studying his craft, investing in areas of growth and by maintaining the same level of honesty and integrity in his business life as he does in his personal life. He enjoys what he does and has never forgotten where he came from. A lesson he shares with the younger generation when he can.
So does Chef Frattaroli cook at home? Actually very rarely. The family are almost always at the restaurant so they eat there. In fact in the early days, when his kids were at school, they would all meet at the restaurant in Winchester for their family evening meal. Filippo loves the simple Abruzzese cucina the best. In his restaurants he’s helping to keep our local culinary traditions alive by serving maccheroni alla chitarra and arrosticini amongst other dishes to his guests.
Today Filippo Frattaroli is a successful and hugely popular restaurateur and a rare example of one whose philanthropy extends throughout both cities.
What we have found most impressive however is that not only has he managed to maintain strong links with the city he left behind as a teenager, but he operates almost as a one-man publicity machine – encouraging people to visit Sulmona and to discover the charms of his birth city.
If you ever find yourself in Boston’s North End be sure to look him up – you’ll be sure of a warm welcome!
For more info on Filippo Frattaroli’s restaurants in the US, and the B&B Sei Stelle in Sulmona click here.