Italian roots run deep, but family ties run deeper for chef Rocco Pezzano and his son Marco Pezzano.
Bringing together childhood memories and traditional Italian flavors, the Pezzanos opened Sfizio Modern Italian Kitchen, a neighborhood restaurant from scratch in north Phoenix last summer.
True to the motto of home cooking, the Pezzanos pride themselves on Sfizio’s homemade sauces, pasta and bread.
“Italian cuisine is not that complicated. It’s all about the ingredients. That’s why we spend a little more time making our own pasta, making our own bread,” says Rocco, reiterating that a dish may look beautiful but its flavor comes from the ingredients.
However, the best dish requires more than the right ingredients and a chef with years of experience. It all comes down to a chef’s love for her craft. For Rocco, the restaurant business is the only thing he knows well and cooking is his passion.
“In almost everything I do, I put my heart,” he says.
After a long career as a chef and restaurant owner, Rocco closed the door on that chapter of his life for nearly a decade. Then, years later, his son brought up the idea of opening a restaurant together.
In February 2021 they leased the space. In August, Sfizio welcomed its first clients.
“We had a lot of problems with the help at the beginning. I was there practically seven days a week cooking. A week before opening, it had no employees,” says Rocco. “I didn’t have anyone in the kitchen, so my plan B was to make two pizzas, two pastas, and two salads. I said that’s it, that’s all I’m going to do.”
From humble beginnings, the Pezzanos have experimented and expanded their menu to include a wide variety of appetizers, salads, pastas, pizzas, desserts, and more recently, an original creation called Sfizini.
“We’re particularly proud because it’s unique to us. It’s something we came up with ourselves and we obviously call it our own place,” says Marco.
Sfizini is a vibrant and flavorful tribute to Rocco’s upbringing and his mother’s cooking. Always in the kitchen, she would make a unique snack for the family as a light snack before the main meal, she explained. She would often take a piece of bread, hollow out the center and stuff the inside with classic Italian ingredients.
Sfizini is Rocco’s version, combining freshly baked bread and old world flavors to relive your childhood memories. Customers can choose from eight different flavors, such as meatballs and mozzarella, Italian sausage or sautéed eggplant, or choose a combination of three.
Opening a restaurant has sparked a genuinely healthy and wonderful relationship with his father, says Marco. As business partners, they have found a new layer to their already close bond.
“It’s an interesting dynamic to go from being a kid listening to their parents to telling them what to do sometimes,” says Marco. “I have seen a lot of maturity and growth in myself. I went from being, you know, a kid with little to no responsibility to now being involved in this, and I honestly admire it.”
Rocco and Marco recognize each other’s strengths and that has made all the difference in finding the balance they need to run the business together, the duo say.
Marco, a current architecture student at Arizona State University, influenced the restaurant’s modern design and sleek aesthetic, while his father Rocco developed a distinctive menu true to his lineage in southern Italy.
A mutual understanding and genuine respect for each other expedited early business decisions and necessary renovations to the restaurant. The general assumption that opening a family restaurant can be difficult doesn’t seem to affect them.
For the Pezzanos, their motto, “Family first, then family running a business” is how they stay focused on their values and priorities. Eager to spread the Pezzano name, Rocco and Marco focus on honing their craft, the Sfizio experience and the food they want to be known for, encouraging each other with the phrase, “Let’s take this to the next level.”
Marco is helping his father adjust to today’s restaurant world that relies on social media.
“Come back when [dad] I was managing restaurants, it was basically essential that you have good food because there was nothing else to evaluate your restaurant by. There was no social media, there were no rumors, there was no trend… it was just, ‘Hey, this place has really good food, let’s eat there.’ Now restaurants have become more of an experience,” Marco says, “we’re trying to do both here.”
While hype or “buzz” is one aspect that they would like for their restaurant, it is not all that they want. Many trendy restaurants have mediocre food, but you’re looking for a unique atmosphere or experience, says Marco. Sfizio aims to combine both experience and a high-quality menu, two aspects of the restaurant industry that are equally important to them.
“From my perspective, I think one thing in the restaurant industry today that is different than it was a long time ago is that a lot of character is lost. It’s not often that you go to a restaurant and know that it’s owned by a family, but you actually see the family there,” says Marco.
In Sfizio, Rocco and Marco can be found working side by side in the restaurant they have built together. From the Italian menu derived from Rocco’s roots to the bold sign Marco built that reads “Sfizio” proudly on the wall, Sfizio embodies the bond of this father and son duo.
Sfizio Modern Italian Kitchen
21050 North Tatum Boulevard, Unit 110
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday