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Italian Food Company is a Little Italy for the Florida Keys

A South Florida couple with ties to Italy started building the Italian Food Company on a whim. A few years later, they have three locations, a loyal following, Italian chefs and pizza makers, and a new concept slated for spring.

Isis and Tony Wright

Isis and Tony Wright are building a sort of Little Italy of their own in the Florida Keys, with three Italian Food Company locations and new projects in the works.

The Italian Food Company has one of those pandemic bad timing origin stories that would seem impossible to have a happy ending. Owners Isis and Tony Wright, who had been living in the Florida Keys after moving 80-plus miles south from Miami, bought an investment property and closed on it in the first week of March 2020. Then Covid hit.

The deal could have broken the couple, but instead, as they were deciding what to do with the building in Key Largo, Tony Wright ate a pizza during a trip back to Miami that would change everything. Isis, during a recent call with Appetito, describes it repeatedly as “serendipity,” explaining that her husband met a Neapolitan master pizzaiolo in Miami, and called her to rave about his pies. Never having created a restaurant before, the Wrights ended up starting one of the most successful Italian restaurant concepts in South Florida, and one that continues to grow and evolve just three years into their journey.

How could such an unlikely scenario happen?

Back in the Keys, the Wrights started talking with the pizzaiolo, Leopoldo Figlioli, and eventually decided to turn the building into a restaurant with Neapolitan pizza. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” Isis says of the situation, adding that they then saw it as an opportunity to create a brand dedicated to the food they love and that Tony had grown up eating back in Italy.

fritto misto
Fritto misto at Italian Food Company. Photo: Andrea Grieco/@Mixeats

Isis, a Cuban-American who tends to do most of the talking about the Italian Food Company, explains that Tony’s last name is Wright because he’s American on his father’s side, but his mother is from Sicily. His father was command master chief at the naval base in Sigonella, and Tony grew up between Sicily and Naples, moving to the U.S. at 22.

Tony has taken Isis back to Italy frequently, and while they share a love of Italian cuisine, neither had been in the restaurant business before starting IFC. (Isis says they had worked in branding and digital marketing.) Besides the pizza, which they developed with Figlioli, they leaned heavily on Wright’s mother Maria’s recipes as well as her mother’s, or Tony’s nonna. “A lot of the recipes that you see in Key Largo in particular, those are all from her kitchen table, and from his Nonna,” Isis explains, pointing out dishes like eggplant parmigiana, lasagna, and especially the polpette al sugo (meatballs). Maria, who also lives in the Keys, hand rolls the meatballs every Tuesday, Isis says.

meatballs
Polpette al sugo, meatballs created by Tony Wright's mother, Maria. Photo: Andrea Grieco/@Mixeats

The meatball job now requires a lot more effort than when the business first started—”hundreds and hundreds of meatballs,” Isis says with a laugh. After the Key Largo location opened, selling Figlioli’s Neapolitan pizzas as well as Italian grocery products and dishes made from Maria’s recipes, word spread throughout the Keys about this authentic Italian upstart. They had plenty of outdoor seating, and during the various waves of Covid, Italian Food Company became so popular that traffic jams would form on US1 as guests clamored to get in. 

The couple soon opened a second location a bit further south in the resort town of Islamorada. Then, as demand continued to surge, they found a third location in Tavernier between the other two, Italian Food Company Express, which is more of a commissary kitchen with a storefront, a casual dining room, and Roman-style pizza. 

margherita pizza
A margherita pizza from Italian Food Company in the Florida Keys. Photo: Andrea Grieco-Mixeats

Part of the success can be attributed to the unique geography of the area, Isis explains, noting that Key Largo and Islamorada residents represent different demographics—”People don’t like to cross the bridge,” she says, referring to the section of the famed Overseas Highway that separates Islamorada from points north. As a result, the locations “don’t cannibalize each other.” 

Now, this unintentional restaurant group is making another big splash, readying another concept for spring. That’s when the Wrights are aiming to open Lido 73, a restaurant modeled on the a favorite beach club from Taormina, Sicily, with grilled meats and fish, sandwiches and flatbreads, and a “fun atmosphere.”

The new addition will also be in Islamorada, in a beachside location in what is known as “the sport fishing capital of the world.” The couple have brought in a chef from Sicily, Narciso Ardizzone, to consult on the opening menu (those in South Florida or visitors to the Keys should follow @theitalianfoodcompany for updates about Sicilian Night dinners they’re hosting while Ardizzone is in town).

Isis says that the fourth location is another unintended business move, but that the opportunity “fell in our laps.” Still the Italian Food Company seems to have crossed over from accidental start-up to something much more grandiose, as she admits.

“Our goal is to create a brand, not just one or two restaurants,” she says.

Given what they’ve done so far, opening three locations in three years with a fourth about to open, they seem well on their way.

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