BIZ FEATURE: ITALIAN FOOD COMPANY BRINGS A TASTE OF ITALY TO KEY LARGO & ISLAMORADA

Italian Food Company crew: From left, Ben Loftus, executive chef; Pietro Calemme, pizzaiolo; Isis and Tony Wright, owners; Roberta Wright, Tony’s sister and onsite manager, and Claudio Intilangelo, dining room manager. DOUG FINGER/Keys Weekly

Italian Food Company owners Tony and Isis Wright never dreamed of opening a restaurant. With a love for Italy and good food came an opportunity the two couldn’t pass up.

Now, patrons stopping by the bar-trattoria style restaurant are indulging in authentic southern Italian cuisine, with freshly-made Neapolitan (Naples-style) pizza, delicious boccas that overflow with toppings, a selection of homemade desserts and more. 

With outdoor dining underneath covered patios, patrons gaze around the landscaped garden as they eat lunch and dinner. They sit at Sicilian lava tables imported from the Mt. Etna region. There’s even a table from Tony’s youth.

Opening in July 2021, Isis said, the restaurant incorporates various elements of the Italian cuisine scene. She said the restaurant has features similar to that of an Italian bar where people come and grab coffee and a croissant in the morning or a rice ball in the afternoon. It’s not only a place to grab food, but it’s also a place to converse with people you know. 

The restaurant also adds aspects of an Italian pizzeria as well as a trattoria, which Tony describes as an Italian-style eating establishment that is generally less formal than a restaurant. 

“When we launched, we didn’t know if we’d open for breakfast and have paninis, sandwiches and pizzas or if it was going to be a restaurant,” Tony said. “We were going to let the restaurant talk to us.”

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the course for the Wrights’ next venture. The year before, Tony said the property, formerly home to Papa Johns at MM 98 in the median, caught his eye. He wasn’t exactly sure what he’d do with the place if he decided to buy it. But he knew the place had potential. 

In March 2020, the Wrights closed on the property. Within weeks, the two discussed what would come next. They looked at the Keys and thought about the things they liked. That’s when they turned to their summer sojourns to Naples, the Amalfi coast, Sicily and Taormina. The Wrights revel in the blue sea and vibrant flowers. They’re drawn to classic Italian ingredients, from hearty garden tomatoes and fresh local herbs to local olive oils and fresh sauce. Sharing the authenticity and warmth of traditional Italian trattorias and eaters became the Wrights’ wish. 

Visiting Italian Food Company is a sensory experience, said Isis. 

“Visually, there are so many beautiful things from Italy,” Isis said. “Then you eat the food and all these flavors burst into your mouth. Italian cooking is very simple but flavorful because they take their time. By the time you finish your whole dining experience you feel something.” 

At Italian Food Company, all products are sourced from Italy. Fresh, classic Neapolitan pizza dough, sauce from ripe, bright tomatoes, fresh Italian mozzarella and seasonal extra virgin olive oil are among the staples. The Neapolitan pizza’s classic style is marked by its signature feature of fresh seasoned tomato sauce and flash cooked in an oven. 

Tony said some people think the pizza is too juicy in the middle. That’s because all the ingredients are fresh. 

“It has a beautiful history when we’re talking about hundreds of years making the same style pizza the same way forever,” Isis said. “It’s going to be much lighter and thinner in the center. It’s a Neapolitan, juicy pizza that’s eaten with a knife and fork.” 

Italian Food Company’s pizzeria is led by the Wrights and the maestro imported from Italy in master pizzaiolo Leopoldo Figlioli. And recently, the team added another talent with executive chef Ben Loftus. He started his career in the Florida Keys over 20 years ago, perfecting and bringing French cuisine to distinguished acclaim during his tenure in Islamorada. 

He was a foodie favorite, elevating the dining experience at Pierre’s to one of the best restaurants in Florida. His subsequent roles with Cheeca Lodge and Spa and The Hungry Tarpon expanded his techniques and styles into new American and coastal cuisines. Tony said adding Loftus will allow them to bring some classic and new favorite Italian dishes to the Wrights’ next venture — a new restaurant located at the former Bentley’s in Islamorada. 

“He’s gained the respect and admiration of many people in the Florida Keys. I get calls almost every day with genuine enthusiasm and support for Ben’s new role with us,” Tony said. 

Loftus said the Italian Food Company presents a unique opportunity to innovate, grow and bring a new cultural dining experience to the Keys. 

“Italian cuisine is beautifully simple, with so many options to delight guests. We’ve already discussed preliminary additions to the menu for Islamorada, and we’ll add specials to the menu as I’ve done in the past,” Loftus said. 

The new restaurant in Islamorada will offer indoor dining, two unique sitdown bars and an expanded menu, Isis said they’re planning to keep the core menu from their Key Largo location inside their new restaurant, but they want to add some seafood dishes. And the Wrights and Loftus said they’re looking to put the former Bentley’s restaurant back on the map. 

“The building has a feeling to it,” Tony said. “Everybody comes and tells me stories. Even the old Bentley’s owner visited here one day and asked if there’s anything he could do. I said maybe we can bring back a dessert. Everyone has such good memories of this place.” 

Isis said the opening of the new restaurant will be in 30 to 60 days. 

More information is at italianfoodcompany.com or follow @theitalianfoodcompany on Instagram. 

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Jim McCarthy is a northerner who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since his graduation from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3 years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. Behind every community is resiliency and resolve in difficult times. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim serves as President of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. “It’s a group that lives by the motto ‘Service Above Self,’” he says. “We’ve done service projects at the Tavernier nursing home, sitting down and socializing with residents. “We’ve also supplied cameras to young students exploring the Keys ecosystem.” Jim loves sports, family and time exploring underneath the water depths.