Christianne Ricchi on memorable encounter with Shimon Peres at Ristorante i Ricchi’s ~
“Now picture this. These are 12 Israelis. They’re sitting at a long table and they were all sitting on their elbows hunched forward talking about world peace. . . Only I can serve them. I go to the bar, I get 12 of my best long-stemmed crystal cordial glasses. . . We fill to the brim with limoncello . . .I go with the tray and I take one glass and I bend over to put it in front of . . .the prime minister. With that, the tray in my left hand starts to teeter. . .”
A Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen. This is Our Town and I have a very, very, very, very, very wonderful opportunity to talk to a gorgeous young lady. Young girl I would say in the old days but now a young lady. Christianne Ricchi. She’s born in New York City, a shock to me when I found that out, Christianne. You went to Italy in the summer to study painting and she went back to Florence for 17 years. She came to DC to Our Town in 1999 … ’89, to open i Ricchi. I used to pronounce that “Eye Ricky.”
Christianne Ricchi: Now you . . .
A Ockershausen: i Ricchi. The wonderful and talented Christianne Ricchi. Welcome to Our Town.
Christianne Ricchi: Oh, thank you Andy. I am so happy and flattered to be here, I can’t tell you. You know I admired you forever.
i Ricchi – It’s about the people . . . and, of course, the food!
A Ockershausen: You’re such a big part of Our Town. You, you talk about your food. What you have done with your restaurant, to me, is you’ve made it more than a place to eat. It’s not a food place, it’s a people place and that is so evident to your customer base that I know about.
Christianne Ricchi: Thank you. I’m glad you feel that way because that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. I was having a conversation with a customer of mine yesterday who’d just gotten back from Italy and the first thing he said to me was how wonderful and warm and hospitable the Italians were. Then he went on to talk about how beautiful it was and how great the food was and I said to him, “That’s exactly what we’re trying to do here on 19th Street.” It’s not a new concept but it’s something that we’ve had at the heart of our business for the last 28 years.
A Ockershausen: Christianne, because it’s still a people business, you’ve made it that way. Food business, yes, but people come first and food comes second. Now, everybody doesn’t have that. Five Guys doesn’t do it that way.
Christianne Ricchi: That’s something that has always been important to us. In our little Trattoria, the place that I fell in love with back in the ’70s, in Cercina outside of Florence, was the center, the focal point of the community. That’s where people came, we had a little store, they bought their bread in the morning. They came and had dinner. The men came and played cards and smoked cigars after dinner. We were the focal point of the community and that’s what I’m trying to do with i Ricchi on 19th Street.
A Ockershausen: You bring that atmosphere with you but I always thought there was an Italian background. I was shocked to know you were a New Yorker and I’ve known you for as long as you’ve been here and to find out you … Then you went back and went to the Florence area and you were a big part of it, and there’ll never be another restaurant like yours, I don’t think. I don’t know of another Italian restaurant that has that atmosphere and your fire’s burning in there all the time. That’s you.
Christianne Ricchi: Yeah, and our business, the restaurant business is changing.
A Ockershausen: Oh my.
Meeting the Challenges in Restaurant Industry and Community Head On
Christianne Ricchi: It’s changed over the last five to eight years in Washington, oh my goodness. Our industry has always been difficult. It’s always been competitive, but now more than ever, the whole game has changed. What people wanted 30 years ago is different than what people want today.
A Ockershausen: You are very aware of that. You can see it in your neighborhood. Incidentally how did you survive all that construction going on on 19th Street? I don’t know how you did it.
Christianne Ricchi: It wasn’t easy and you know what? They’re doing more construction. They just knocked down the whole block next to ours.
A Ockershausen: I saw that. What was there? Just townhouses or something?
Christianne Ricchi: There was a conglomeration of little townhouses, I think.
A Ockershausen: That’s what I thought.
Christianne Ricchi: Buildings. Now they’re going to build this super-huge-
A Ockershausen: Another skys-
Christianne Ricchi: Yeah, and they’re redoing Steptoe & Johnson’s building and Akin Gump’s building, so within the next few years our 19th Street is going to look very, very different. It’s my goal to survive. To make it through and be there when all these people come back to Dupont Circle.
Relying on Advice from Tried and True Colleagues
A Ockershausen: I think whether you invented the concept or stole it is immaterial. When you started sending out your emails about your Tuesday or Wednesday night reception, a gathering, I thought that was a revelation to me. It was to me. We loved it.
Christianne Ricchi: About five years ago, I had a revelation that if I didn’t do something I was going to end up like many of my colleagues and I was going to have to close. I sat down with my director of operations Rick Stewart and we had a long heart to heart and we thought about it.
A Ockershausen: He’s been with you a long time, hadn’t he?
Christianne Ricchi: He was the guy who built the restaurant. He was my general contractor.
A Ockershausen: All right. He’s been there forever.
Christianne Ricchi: He, because of his restaurant background, I found myself going to him all the time to ask advice because I was a kid from Italy. We ran this little country restaurant, what did I know about a big, fancy restaurant on 19th Street? I kept going to him.
A Ockershausen: With a big rental.
Christianne Ricchi: Oh my goodness. I kept going to Rick and asking his questions. How do I handle the waiters and what do I do with tips? He said, “You know what, I’ll give you three months. I’ll stay on for three months, help you get the place off the ground.” That was …
A Ockershausen: 30 years ago?
Christianne Ricchi: … 28 years ago and he’s still with me.
A Ockershausen: I remember him from the first time I went in the restaurant.
Christianne Ricchi: PW’s and he had PW’s Café and the Greenery and he’s been around Washington for a long time.
A Ockershausen: Oh my god, he had done it all right in downtown Washington.
Christianne Ricchi: I really respect his opinion and I said, “If we don’t do something we’re going to have to close.” This was about five years ago. Of course I did some soul searching myself and whether I wanted to continue fighting this battle.
A Ockershausen: It was a 24 hour a day job to you.
Christianne Ricchi: Oh, yeah.
A Ockershausen: Still is, of course.
Christianne Ricchi: It still is.
A Ockershausen: But then it was really intense, right?
Christianne Ricchi: Yes. I started to look at what we do and I thought what we have to offer is still very relevant. It’s good food. Good, simple food. They talk about farm to table now or scratch cooking, that’s what we’ve always done. We bake our own breads. We make our own gelatos and everything in between. Then because of Rick’s expertise we had a great base. He had designed the inner workings of the restaurant for growth, so we have policies and procedures and all kinds of things that maybe a normal “mom and pop” restaurant wouldn’t have.
Plus the fact I had a great staff. So many of the people that work for me have been with me since the beginning. My kitchen manager, who runs the kitchen now, I hired as a dishwasher the first day we opened.
A Ockershausen: 28 years. That’s wonderful.
Christianne Ricchi: We have a lot of people like that so we looked at and I said, “I can’t give this up.”
A Ockershausen: Continuity.
Lease Renegotiated and Communication – Key to Growth
Christianne Ricchi: “There’s too much there.” I tried to be a little creative. Up until then I owned the restaurant outright so we renegotiated our release for a nice, long 20 years and I put together a group of investors that have helped me maintain the restaurant and I’m really encouraged because we’ve made it this far and it’s been-
A Ockershausen: You’re paying them back which is even better.
Christianne Ricchi: We hope to, but they’ve been wonderfully supportive, and we’ve seen a turnaround. We see things changing. We see sales increasing. We hope to be here.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: You know how you say in your business, “I really want to get to that next level. I really want to take it up a notch.” I’ve felt that about your business in the last three years. I felt that you’ve taken it up a notch with your communications, with your social media …
A Ockershausen: That’s what I thought was fabulous.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: … and those wonderful emails that we get …
Christianne Ricchi: Thank you.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: … that talk about … We want to come down.
Christianne Ricchi: Oh, YAY.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: We want to participate, we want to be a part of that community, and we love Italian food and we were married in Italy, so we appreciate that so much.
A Ockershausen: We should’ve stayed 17 years in Florence.
Christianne Ricchi: There you go. Although Italy is not like it used to be, but thank you. I can’t tell you what that means to me. It means mission accomplished because that’s what I’m trying to do. Five years ago when I tried to … We’ve been reinventing ourselves, and it is about communication. It was my son in law, five years ago said to me, “The most valuable thing you can have is somebody’s email and communicate with them.” That was five years ago.
Today you’d say, “Yeah, duh,” but five years ago, it was a revelation to me. Five years ago, we didn’t have one email. Today we have almost 10,000 emails.
A Ockershausen: This is a revelation to me because I grew up without email. I grew up with no electronics at all. My life is still the telephone. I can’t use this thing. It drives me crazy but I read your … I read it religiously and started when you first started your email. They were so, so, so interesting about what’s going on in Our Town so I jumped on that. You’ve got a way to communicate and you’re using it beautifully now. It’s enticing.
Christianne Ricchi: Wonderful. That’s the whole idea. What we’ve done also is what I’m constantly doing, is trying to think of ways to introduce people, to bring people to the restaurant and so I’m always trying to think of new ways. Like you mentioned earlier, we did the Cena Bianca, the White Dinner a couple weeks ago. It was the second year we did it. We had over 100 people come. It was fabulous.
Tomorrow, we have Joan Wages coming to talk to us. I started a series called The Need to Know and it’s a dinner. It’s an intimate dinner where I bring people who are experts in their fields to come and talk to a small group of people. Joan Wages is the …
A Ockershausen: That name … I know that name.
Christianne Ricchi: She is the president and CEO of the new, soon to be built, National Women’s History Museum. We got together. I said “Please come and talk.” She’s going to talk on, get this, think about this, food preparation and the effect that it has had on women over the ages.
A Ockershausen: Wow.
Christianne Ricchi: With that, I say, there are so many entrepreneurial restaurateurs, women, in this country that have changed our market. Have changed the restaurant business in this country. What I’ve done is I’ve put together a menu highlighting the recipes of these iconic women. That’s the menu that we’re going to have. Bananas Foster from Ella Brennan in Commander’s Palace or …
A Ockershausen: Oh my god.
Christianne Ricchi: … recipes from Ruth Fertel from Ruth’s Chris Steak House. We even have Hattie Moseley Austin’s chicken and biscuits from Hattie’s Chicken Shack.
A Ockershausen: Mmm. Oh, boy.
Christianne Ricchi: The idea is we try to put together events that are different, that are interesting, that bring people together and so this is what I spend a lot of my time doing now.
A Ockershausen: As I said to you initially from my observation, you’re in the food business but you’re really in the people business.
Christianne Ricchi: Oh, yeah.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: The entertainment business.
A Ockershausen: Entertainment, they go together, and then the food of course is superb, but the other thing’s, very important.
It’s Different in America
Christianne Ricchi: That’s what sets American restaurants apart from restaurants in anywhere else, particularly in Italy. In Italy, if you go to the restaurant, the only thing the Italians are interested in is the quality of the food. They don’t care what the person looks like who brings it. They don’t care what the décor looks like.
A Ockershausen: How you’re dressed, whatever.
Christianne Ricchi: They don’t care. In Cercina, in our little Trattoria, we’ve got local kids in T-shirts who are bringing the food to the table. People don’t care. In this country it’s about the experience. It’s about how you make people feel and how they feel when they leave the restaurant.
A Ockershausen: You’re a trailblazer in this atmosphere, too, in our city. I know that because … We’re going to take a break right now. Christianne Ricchi. i Ricchi. This is Andy Ockershausen and this is Our Town.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town.
A Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen. This is Our Town. I’m delighted to have a iconic … One of the leaders of Washington’s food and people industry, Christianne Ricchi. In 2016 she was serving on the National Cherry Blossom Festival Board of Directors and had a big philanthropic event at her restaurant that was a huge success. I am told that everything that you do at your restaurant’s a huge success, thankfully.
Christianne Ricchi: We try really hard.
A Ockershausen: You’re there.
Christianne Ricchi: We try really hard and whatever we put our name to or whatever we put our energy towards, we try to make it the best we can. We try to over-deliver.
A Ockershausen: You have such a famous clientele that I see. I know your people across the street and down the street but a lot of steakhouses are gone, but you’re still there. I think it’s wonderful.
Christianne Ricchi: It’s a perk for me. This is a tough business.
A Ockershausen: Whoa.
Christianne Ricchi: One of the perks for me is meeting people and forging wonderful relationships with people that otherwise I would never have had the opportunity to meet. I’ve made some great friends in this town.
A Ockershausen: I can see it because I know your restaurant. I know the clientele is upper crust Washington. I know that.
Christianne Ricchi: You know what? It’s everybody, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to be.
A Ockershausen: The people place.
i Ricchi Is About People and Community. . .and, of course, the Food
Christianne Ricchi: We’re trying to be the place for everybody. Could be the little person who walks past our restaurant on the way to the Metro that stops in for something to drink before they go home. We want it to be a place of the community …
A Ockershausen: Of family.
Christianne Ricchi: … where everybody feels comfortable coming.
A Ockershausen: What are your plans now for … You’re going to continue through the summer with your events? I call them event dinners. Ones on Tuesday and Wednesday night.
Christianne Ricchi: We have so many different things. We have our Need To Know Dinners, we have our Wine Tasting Cigar Smokers. All kinds of things. Tonight, we’ve started something called Pop Up Parties. When the weather is nice like it has been …
A Ockershausen: Oh, you’ll have a wonderful night.
Christianne Ricchi: We send out through our email and Twitter and we announce we’re having a Pop Up Party on the piazza tonight. We put a bar outside, we bring out the grill. I grill some bruschetta and we have a complimentary-
A Ockershausen: What was that?
Christianne Ricchi: Bruschetta is Italian garlic bread.
A Ockershausen: Oh.
Christianne Ricchi: You grill it, you rub in a little garlic, some great Tuscan olive oil.
A Ockershausen: Bruschetta.
Christianne Ricchi: Bruschetta.
A Ockershausen: Bruschetta, now I know.
Christianne Ricchi: Bruschetta. We have a condiments table and you come sit, have a drink, and meet your friends. It’s those kinds of things that we’re continually doing.
We have fundraisers. We had a big fundraiser for the earthquake victims from the Italian earthquake victims last year, so we’re doing things that we think are meaningful to our customers.
A Ockershausen: People things. That’s what I love, what you’re doing. Now you have a story and I want you to tell us in your own words in your own way the Christianne story.
Christianne Ricchi: I knew I was coming here and I thought …
A Ockershausen: I would hope so.
A Memorable Evening with Shimon Peres and Limoncello
Christianne Ricchi: I thought over 28 years, what are some of the … I can tell you stories about Billy Joel and bringing my son backstage and all sorts of things like that but the one thing that I remember and it’s a delightful story was probably about 20 years ago. We get notice that Shimon Peres wants to come to dinner.
A Ockershausen: Aha!
Christianne Ricchi: Of course their Secret Service comes in and they sweep the place and they’re all over the place. In comes the Prime Minister and I …
A Ockershausen: Who told him about the restaurant?
Christianne Ricchi: I don’t know. It was a time when … We were a pretty hot place at the time, so people wanted to come.
A Ockershausen: I told you, you’re still a hot place.
Christianne Ricchi: He walks in and he says to me, “Tuscan, Tuscan, what is this Tuscan food?” I said, “Please come in and we’ll take care of you.” There are about 12 of them and they sit down, they have dinner. Then I go to the table because I’m the owner. I want to make sure that they have white glove treatment and I ask them if I can bring them an after-dinner drink and they said, “You know, we’ve heard about this limoncello. We’d love to try some limoncello.”
Now picture this. These are 12 Israelis. They’re sitting at a long table and they were all sitting on their elbows hunched forward talking about world peace. They’re really into this thing. Only I can serve them. I go to the bar, I get 12 of my best long-stemmed crystal cordial glasses. We fill it to the brim with limoncello and I bring it back on this tray.
A Ockershausen: 12 of them.
Christianne Ricchi: 12 of them. This is the . . .
A Ockershausen: Like shooters.
Christianne Ricchi: I was so stupid. I was so stupid. Long stem. I go. Now again, right, they’re all hunched over the table talking. I go with the tray and I take one glass and I bend over to put it in front of …
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Uh oh.
Christianne Ricchi: … the prime minister. With that, the tray in my left hand starts to teeter.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Oh no.
Christianne Ricchi: All 11 glasses tip over and spray the prime minister’s back with limoncello. Now, you know when things happen … Has anything ever happened to you where you … “Can I grab it in slow motion and bring it back?” That’s the first thing you think. Then you think, “Okay, now what do I do? Do I run? Do I …”
A Ockershausen: Hide?
Christianne Ricchi: Now, believe … Nobody was aware of this. They’re talking, they didn’t … No glass broke. It was just the liquor that went down his … The sugary, syrupy liquid goes down his back. I’m thinking, “I’m not going to say anything, they didn’t know.” Then I thought, “No, he’s going to go sit in his limo and he’s going to stick to the back of the limo. I can’t do that.” I grab a napkin.
A Ockershausen: Start wiping him off?
Christianne Ricchi: This is the prime minister Shimon Peres. I grab a napkin and I start patting his back, trying to sop up this limoncello and with that …
A Ockershausen: That is absolutely going to raise somebody’s attention.
Christianne Ricchi: You think, with all the Secret Service around?
A Ockershausen: That’s a security issue.
Christianne Ricchi: With that, he turns to me very slowly and he looks up with a twinkle in his eye and he says to me, “Madame, if you are going to do that you must do it slowly.” I tell you, it’s something that I will never, ever forget.
A Ockershausen: You will never forget that. Madame.
Christianne Ricchi: He was wonderful. “Madame, you must do it slowly.”
A Ockershausen: Listen, he’ll never forget you either will he?
Christianne Ricchi: I don’t know. I don’t know, but it was …
A Ockershausen: You gave him a delicious back.
Christianne Ricchi: I tell you, it was …
A Ockershausen: Did you ever dry him off? Did you ever hear?
Christianne Ricchi: He was such a gentleman, he was saying, “Don’t worry, don’t worry.” He kept saying it. It was fine, but they had more …
A Ockershausen: He was quite a character, Peres, right?
Christianne Ricchi: Oh my goodness. Yeah. We’ve had wonderful people.
A Ockershausen: The fact has been all the people you see from Israel, they are characters. That’s what’s so great about the country, among everything else. Now how about Italian guests? Have you ever had the premier of Italy come into your place or the prime minister?
Christianne Ricchi: No. I’m waiting, I’m waiting. Although, you know what, I have to say that reminds me. Many times we have …
A Ockershausen: Diplomats?
i Ricchi – The Biggest Compliment of All
Christianne Ricchi: We have Italians who come from Italy and they come to eat in our restaurant and inevitably they leave, and these are people who are experienced travelers and inevitably they leave saying how much they loved the food, and for me, that is the biggest compliment …
A Ockershausen: Oh, yeah.
Christianne Ricchi: … because Italians are not easy with compliments when it comes to food.
A Ockershausen: You should know that.
Christianne Ricchi: Their mom always did it better or their nona always did it better, so for an Italian to leave enthusiastic from our restaurant is the best for us.
A Ockershausen: I don’t want to get into your personal life but it is important because I’ve known you long enough to know that. Your husband’s business is not any affect with you. He does his own thing, you do your thing, correct?
Francesco Ricchi | Cesco Osteria | And, Family
Christianne Ricchi: The short story is Francesco and I came together. We ran the restaurant in Italy together and we came-
A Ockershausen: In the small town right?
Christianne Ricchi: In the small town Cercina where his family started the little Trattoria, and we scooped up our two little babies at the time and came in the late ’80s to open up i Ricchi together. We did that together for about two or three years at which point Francesco and I separate. We part ways, we divorce. Cesco now has a great restaurant in Bethesda called Cesco’s. No, it doesn’t. It’s really not competition because even though Bethesda’s not that far, it’s two completely different-
A Ockershausen: Different worlds. I agree to that.
Christianne Ricchi: Different clientele. Different clientele. No and in fact just last week I called Francesco. I needed to know where to get a specific type of cheese that I know that he uses and I called him and asked him. It’s all good.
A Ockershausen: Great. Good for your children that you have a relationship.
Christianne Ricchi: Oh, of course.
A Ockershausen: Your kids are grown now.
Christianne Ricchi: The grandchildren. We’ve got three beautiful …
A Ockershausen: You’re getting old.
Christianne Ricchi: Hey.
A Ockershausen: I know that.
Christianne Ricchi: I love this grandma gig. I love it.
A Ockershausen: You’ll always be gorgeous even if you’re old.
Christianne Ricchi: Oh, thank you.
A Ockershausen: That’s important to the restaurant.
Christianne Ricchi: I am old. Honey, I am.
A Ockershausen: A lot of people come in that restaurant because of you.
Christianne Ricchi: Wow. Oh.
A Ockershausen: I know that for a fact because you’re so … You glow and you make them feel very important when they come in your restaurant.
i Ricchi – A Vocation
Christianne Ricchi: Running a restaurant the way we do, it’s almost like a vocation. I have devoted my life to this, so if you’re not happy doing it and if you’re not comfortable in your space, you shouldn’t be doing it. I guess that’s what people feel.
A Ockershausen: I remember Christianne telling us when it was late at night with the restaurant and it was closing but she was just going to work then to do paperwork or do work or do menus.
Christianne Ricchi: Oh, yeah.
A Ockershausen: When the restaurant is closed, you’re still working.
Christianne Ricchi: Oh, yeah. I go … I leave-
A Ockershausen: It was a 20 hour a day job.
Christianne Ricchi: That’s exactly right. I leave sometimes 2:00, 3:00 in the morning.
A Ockershausen: I remember that so vividly. Oh my.
Christianne Ricchi: Yes. Don’t go in the restaurant business.
A Ockershausen: I’m having trouble hanging on here. This is Andy Ockershausen, this is Our Town, and we’re having a wonderful conversation with Christianne Ricchi.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town with Andy Ockershausen. Brought to you by Best Bark Communications.
A Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen. This is Our Town. Have wonderful conversation with Christianne Ricchi. Is born in New York City, a complete shock to me when I heard that. Tell me about your childhood.
Growing Up on Long Island
Christianne Ricchi: I have to tell you, I’m a Long Island girl so I wasn’t born in New York City. I was born in Garden-
A Ockershausen: Oh on Long Island.
Christianne Ricchi: Garden City, Long Island. Hey, I’ve worked for over 60 years to get rid of this New York accent but every once in a while it pops out on me.
A Ockershausen: It’s beautiful too. I love it.
Christianne Ricchi: Oh, thank you.
A Ockershausen: New Rochelle is not on Long Island.
Christianne Ricchi: No. I grew up in Garden City and I went to a small Catholic women’s college called the College of New Rochelle. Actually my experience there changed my life because it was from there, where I was an art major, it was from there that I went to Florence to study art.
A Ockershausen: Ah. That’s where it all began.
Christianne Ricchi: For me, I’m of Italian heritage, so Italian-American growing up on the outskirts of New York. I thought I knew everything there was to know about Italian food. I was Italian-American. I knew how to make my grandmother’s sauce and spaghetti and meatballs. I go to Florence and I’m introduced to this cuisine these Italians are eating that is completely foreign to me.
A Ockershausen: A different world for you.
Christianne Ricchi: You say spaghetti and meatballs in Florence and they say, “What? What is that?”
A Ockershausen: I have to beg for that.
Italian Food is Just Different in Italy | Trying to Impress Future Mother-in-Law | In Tuscany They Call It Sugo
Christianne Ricchi: I’ll never forget. I met Francesco Ricchi, I met his wonderful family in Cercina, fell in love with the whole family. Was trying to impress my future mother in law who was not an easy woman to impress.
A Ockershausen: Oh-ho-ho.
Christianne Ricchi: She would say some disparaging things about the way Americans would eat and they don’t know how to cook and I was offended and I felt like it was my duty to represent the American culinary to this very opinionated Italian woman.
A Ockershausen: American cuisine has a place, correct?
Christianne Ricchi: I said, “What do you mean? I’m going to make you my grandmother’s sauce.” I spent hours and I make the sauce and the meatballs and the braciole, and I do this plate of spaghetti with meatballs and I put it down in front of her and she looks at it, she pushes the plate away and she goes, ” Che cos’e questa schifezza?!”,”What is this garbage?!”
AOckershausen: What a nice thing. Your mother in law, maybe but you-
Christianne Ricchi: You got to know her to love her. It was a revelation to me and that was what spurred us bringing our restaurant to the United States because in those days, Americans didn’t know what authentic Italian food was.
A Ockershausen: Oh I’m sure of that. A new phenomenon.
Christianne Ricchi: They knew this immigrant cooking that the immigrants invented when they got to this country but this Tuscan food-
A Ockershausen: Sure. They called it gravy, didn’t they?
Christianne Ricchi: That’s exactly right and you know in Tuscany they call it sugo. It’s not gravy. It was a revelation to me and this was the inspiration to bring our food concept to the States.
A Ockershausen: Did your mother in law ever visit you in America?
A Visit in America from Mother-in-Law | All’s Well That Ends Well
Christianne Ricchi: She did. She did and she loved it. She absolutely loved it and I have to tell you, it was something for Italians to see, to come to a restaurant like ours. By American standards, ours is not a large restaurant. We seat about 150 people.
A Ockershausen: It’s intimate.
Christianne Ricchi: We have about 50 employees. To an Italian, to come and see a restaurant that has 50 employees, that does not exist in Italy anywhere. It’s so expensive to hire and retain help in Italy that most places just have a handful of people working for them. She was just amazed …
A Ockershausen: Amazed. Huge operation.
Christianne Ricchi: … to see all the waiter and the busboys and the people and she …
A Ockershausen: It’s your kitchen.
Christianne Ricchi: Yes and she was very, very proud and very, very happy.
A Ockershausen: I’ll bet. Have you been back and seen your old digs? I’m sure you go back to Italy.
Christianne Ricchi: I go back. I don’t go back as much as I’d like. The last time I was back was about three years ago for my niece’s wedding. Yes, Francesco and I’ve divorced and we’ve gone our separate ways but I love …
A Ockershausen: Still family.
Christianne Ricchi: It’s still family. I grew up with him and his family and my in laws and my nieces and nephews and it’s still family for me. I love going back. I love going back.
Christianne Ricchi On Creating Relationships
A Ockershausen: It’s such an intimate story and you thrive on it, I can see that and that’s your charm. That’s why your restaurant’s a success. You’re a people person. The food may be spectacular but you being there is spectacular too.
Christianne Ricchi: Maybe that’s the answer to my question. I have this dilemma. So many times I look in the mirror and I say to myself, “Why in the world am I doing this?” It’s so hard but there’s something about it. There’s something about-
A Ockershausen: Been hard for 28 years.
Christianne Ricchi: There’s something-
A Ockershausen: It’s harder now but I think revelation’s coming. I think that building’s going to be a help to you. I think all the building is going to be a help to you. People will discover what a wonderful, wonderful restaurant you have.
Christianne Ricchi: Thank you. I think going forward it’s going to be even more important that we offer places where people can come together.
A Ockershausen: It’s a people place. Continue with these ideas that you read about and see about and bring them into your restaurant and bring the people in.
Christianne Ricchi: Thank you.
A Ockershausen: You bring in a lot of famous people.
Christianne Ricchi: We bring in people. Actually I’m more interested in … I’m not that interested in the famous people. I want to create a relationship with people who will view this as their place. Who will come in a few times a week. Famous people, they come once and they never come back again.
A Ockershausen: You’re talking about regulars.
Christianne Ricchi: I want regulars.
A Ockershausen: Absolutely.
Christianne Ricchi: I want regulars.
A Ockershausen: It’s the secret of success. Christianne, it’s been such a delight to be with you and to listen to you and to learn so much. You have told me so many things that I didn’t know and I appreciate that, particularly about you and your restaurant. I wish you nothing but 28 more wonderful years.
Christianne Ricchi: Thank you.
A Ockershausen: On 19th Street. I remember one time, the crazy idea, I don’t know whether it was Tommy Jacomo or somebody, they put ice in the middle of 19th Street and had the skiing out there.
Christianne Ricchi: Yes.
A Ockershausen: Don’t be doing anything like that.
Christianne Ricchi: Not quite.
A Ockershausen: I said “Tell him that’s a ridiculous idea.” Christianne, you’re a pleasure.
Christianne Ricchi: Thank you.
A Ockershausen: We’re here for you and Our Town is always going to be … Your feed is going to be up there in the … What is it? Atmosphere. Right? It’s radio without transmission.
Christianne Ricchi: Thank you. Thank you for this opportunity.
A Ockershausen: We love i Ricchi.
Christianne Ricchi: Thank you.
A Ockershausen: We love you.
Christianne Ricchi: Thank you.
A Ockershausen: It’s so important what you’re doing for Our Town and Our Town will discover … We’ll help what we can.
Christianne Ricchi: Thank you.
A Ockershausen: This has been Andy Ockershausen. This has been Our Town and we look forward to wonderful, wonderful meals at your fabulous restaurant.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to Our Town, Season Two. Presented by GEICO, our hometown favorite. With your host Andy Ockershausen. New Our Town episodes are released each Tuesday and Thursday. Drop us a line with your comments or suggestions. See us on Facebook or visit our website at ourtowndc.com. Our special thanks to Ken Hunter, our technical director and WMAL Radio in Washington DC for hosting our podcast. Thanks to GEICO. 15 minutes can save you 15% or more on car insurance.