While you could say the restaurant business is in his blood, Chef Francisco Ortiz didn’t exactly follow in his family’s footsteps, when he opened an Italian restaurant in Gallipolis.
“Our family owns Mexican restaurants across much of the United States, in various locations,” said Francisco. “It was a challenge to prove myself and prove to my family there were possibilities out there to open a different kind of restaurant.”
Born in Mexico and raised in California, Francisco tried multiple career paths as a young adult, but the restaurant business kept drawing him back. His favorite job as a teenager, had been a busboy.
“I loved it. Even if it was just cleaning tables, it was a learning experience,” said Francisco. “I always liked to interact with people. It’s always been a natural thing to me. If I can get someone to talk to me, I will make conversation with them.”
When Francisco’s older brother was given the opportunity to be a managing partner in one of the family’s East Coast Mexican restaurants, Francisco decided to follow him. Having grown up in a very tight-knit family, the separation from the rest of the immediate family was difficult for Francisco, but he continued working. Then, when he decided to pursue an education in the culinary arts, he moved back to California to study at Le Cordon Bleu, but his family moved east, leaving him completely on his own for the first time.
“It actually taught me a lot about being by myself,” said Francisco. “It was a great learning experience. I don’t regret any of it.”
Following graduation, Francisco moved to the Gallipolis area, where his family owns and operates the Mexican restaurant, El Toril, and opened Tuscany Cuccini, his first restaurant and the first Italian restaurant in his family. Despite his family’s long history in the restaurant business, Francisco still had a learning curve to overcome with Tuscany Cuccini.
“School teaches you to have an ego. I don’t know if it’s just culinary school or others, but when I opened, I had a certain way I wanted to serve the food. I thought, this is how people should eat,” said Francisco. “It didn’t work that way. It’s sad, because I had so many complaints. It didn’t take me very long to change how I did things. Again, I was fresh out of culinary school. I thought I needed to do it a certain way. But, I learned, you give whatever the customer wants. You make them satisfied. You adjust whatever needs to be adjusted. Now, I don’t ask myself if I like it. I ask others if they like it.”
For the first two and a half years, Francisco spent all of his time in the kitchen, ensuring everything was precise, with the food delivered to customers. Though he, on occasion, created new dishes, Francisco said he was more concerned about the quality of the food.
“For me, it’s more about making food taste good, rather than being creative all of the time. I just want to make it taste good and at least look decent on the plate,” said Francisco. “We just like taking care of people and making people happy with the food. We focus on satisfying the customer and making them happy.”
Quickly, Tuscany Cuccini’s reputation, as a great place to eat, began to grow in the Gallipolis community. They were recognized as the Gallipolis Daily Tribune’s Reader’s Choice for Best Restaurant in 2013. Unfortunately, that same year, a devastating fire struck the establishment, forcing a closure that lasted five months. Not only did Francisco and his team rebuild and reopen Tuscany, they managed to garner another Readers’ Choice Award for 2014, despite being closed for five months, for both best restaurant and best steak. In 2016, Tuscany Cuccini nabbed both recognitions again.
“Everything has been a lesson. Everything has been a learning experience,” said Francisco.
In 2015, Francisco took all that experience and poured it into a second restaurant. Located in Barboursville, Fratelli’s Italian Restaurant is much like Tuscany Cuccini, but Francisco decided against franchising, in favor of creating a new experience, based on the desires of the customers in the area.
“I think people eat differently in every town,” said Francisco.
With a new restaurant and future restaurants in the plans, Francisco shows no sign of stepping out of the role of entrepreneur any time soon, a job he says can be both rewarding and difficult at times.
“Being an entrepreneur is honestly, I would say, the hardest thing to be in the work force,” said Francisco. “When you’re in business for yourself, you have to do a lot of things people don’t see.”
In addition to dealing with all aspects of the business, ranging from marketing of the business to managing employees, entrepreneurs also carry a lot of responsibility on their shoulders.
“You’re responsible for anything that happens,” said Francisco. “I taught myself to solve problems as fast as I can. The longer you leave a problem, the worse it gets. It’s just a normal day’s living for me. I walk in and deal with the problems as they come.”
Like many other small business owners, Francisco is very supportive of the community.
“I believe if you give back, people will help you, too,” said Francisco. “It just makes us happy to know we can help others.”
Tuscany Cuccini is located at 1308 Eastern Avenue, Gallipolis. Follow them on Facebook or visit www.tuscanygallipolis.com.