On a typical evening at Gianfranco Ristorante Italiano, you’ll find owner Gianfranco Bafaro flitting from the kitchen, to the reception desk, to each table where he checks in with his guests.
“Because of the size of the place, I try to be front and back,” he explained.
The restaurant is small, about 1,000 square feet in a narrow strip on Railroad Avenue, but Gianfranco’s interest in every aspect of the place has more to do with his personality than the number of his employees.
This is his fourth restaurant, the one that brings him closest to his childhood home in the Sila mountains of Italy and, more importantly, his creation.
“Some of the recipes, you’d find in any Italian restaurant…. but I’d say about 75 percent of the menu is my own dishes,” he said. “Dessert, I make my own tiramisu here. I have another dessert, it’s called after my daughter, Strawberries Maria. That one, I made myself.”
He also had specifics about the decor—stone tile, wooden moldings and chair rails, for example—but cooking is Gianfranco’s life’s work. He started cooking with his mother and aunt as a child, and was working in motels and restaurants by age 14 or 15. He came to work in Seattle restaurants in 1979, and opened his own, Il Paesano, in Seattle in 1985. In the following years, he opened Calabria, named for his home region in Italy, in Kirkland in 1988, Il Monello in Issaquah in 1993, and Gianfranco’s in Snoqualmie in 2002, the same year he became an American citizen.
“It’s my passion,” he said of cooking. “It’s the only thing I do good!”
Cook, and feed people, of course. Gianfranco serves up large portions of his traditional Italian fare with a thought for the future.
“Usually when I sell dinners, I sell lunch, too, that’s why I’m not open for lunch. People can have enough for the next day,” he said.
He’ll mark his 10th anniversary in Snoqualmie next April, quietly, with one of his sons who still lives in the area. His two other sons and a daughter live in Italy, along with the rest of his family. They all helped him start the Snoqualmie place, he says, and he goes to see them about every year.
By the time the restaurant nears its 20th anniversary, though, he will see his family much more often.
“This is my last restaurant,” he said, “When I’m done with this, I want to retire…. Some day I want to retire back home.”
In the meantime, he says, he feels at home right here in Snoqualmie.
“I came to Seattle when I was 22. I’m 54 now, so I lived more years in America than I did in Italy,” he said. “I’m American, the same way I’m Italian. I have two countries.”
Gianfranco’s is located at 8150 Railroad Avenue, open daily from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. For reservations, call Gianfranco Ristorante Italiano, (425) 888-6621. The restaurant hosts a special three-course dinner and dessert night, with wine pairings from La Piccola, 8 p.m. Saturday, July 16, by reservation.