Trying to keep track of all the new places opening in St. Pete lately is about as easy as counting seashells during a walk on the beach. But as so many new restaurants, bars and businesses pop up, we hold a special place for the ones who recognize that St. Pete, too, is a special place, and ingrain themselves in our growing community.
One year ago this Friday, Bonu Taverna Italiana opened at the corner of 6th Street and Central Avenue, and it has been a joy to see the bright and airy restaurant become part of the fabric of downtown St. Pete. After all, that was their goal before opening, and you can see it on any given day or night, whether you’re stopping in for a drink and a light bite or bringing the whole family in for a celebratory feast.
I remember talking to some of the owners the week they opened, and Mia Maccarrone, who had been living in St. Pete for five years already, told me that one of their primary aims was to truly be a neighborhood restaurant and bar. In a part of downtown where tourists make up a majority of the business for many restaurants, they decided not to take reservations because they wanted locals to be able to walk in and find a table, rather than have the dining room booked up by out-of-towners. And even now when there’s a line to get in, if owners spot people they know are locals, they make sure they get a bump in the queue.
That same day I stopped by to interview the partners behind this new restaurant, I had to wind my way around a mail delivery bike to get in the front door. Seated at the bar was the postal worker responsible for the route that included Bonu. After seeing him every day for the months of restaurant build out – and with the kitchen now operational – the team invited him in to take a quick break for some tiramisu and an espresso, on the house.
That’s the kind of place Bonu was on day one, and that’s kind of place it still is at day 365. It’s the type of place deserving of celebration in a growing city that is trying as hard as it can to cling to its roots of easy-going hospitality, local art, and genuine warmth.
Bonu Taverna has become part of downtown’s fabric
To celebrate the anniversary, Bonu is having a party on Friday night, May 26, and while the DJ and drinks will get much of the acclaim, it won’t be the only special on the board. Two of the owners, brothers Antonio and Luca Martucci, grew up in southern Italy before the culinary training that eventually took them to Florence, Miami and beyond. And this weekend, their mother is in town not only to celebrate her sons’ success, but to make her signature pasta herself – available for one night only.
Something like that could happen anywhere, to be sure. But it does happen at Bonu.
Antonio and Luca, along with Mia and her husband Mario, and the incredible staff in the kitchen (special shoutout to Luca Bizzari, truly one of the best), have put together a team that has brought something new to St. Pete, while still remaining true to the city’s character.
“We accomplished that in a short time,” Luca Martucci said. “Usually it takes time to build a team. I always tell people we’re like a soccer team. You have the coaches, and you have the players, and you have to build the team. And I want to be in the Champions League. And that was my surprise – we were in the Champions League right away.”
The dedication shows, as does the hands-on commitment to hospitality. More times than not, one or more of the owners have greeted you before you even get to your seat. There’s a good chance they’re the ones who you took you to your seat to begin with, and when they stop by mid-meal it’s not because something went wrong that they needed to fix – they’re just stopping in to say hello.
“The owners are here,” Antonio said. “They clean the table, they seat you, they talk to people. They see you. This is something that I don’t think people can go any other place and see these things.”
Easy-going vibes make Bonu welcoming to all
Antonio himself may be the best example of that, as he’s become the face of Bonu to many. He’s always there, always the first to greet and check on people, and perhaps as importantly, he’s always happy to smile or chat for the camera, inevitably popping up on Instagram accounts throughout the city on a daily basis.
In fact, it was his birthday that gave the entire team one of their happiest moments of the first year. It was just a month ago, but the party Mia and the team threw him was the first event they had really tried to spread the word on. Any regulars they had gotten to know, all their friends and business partners – everyone was invited for the late night soiree.
“Everyone said they would come,” Mia hedged, “but then they showed up. People really came. Everywhere we looked, it was people we knew. There was just this energy here.”
After nearly a year with the doors open – and closer to two since the entire project began – that was one of the first moments they could slow down, look around, and see the community they had built at Bonu.
“We waited a year for this,” Mario said. “We love it here. We love the Burg.”
Bonu has more in store for St. Pete
So what’s next? The team already has several restaurants in Atlanta as part of their portfolio – and they average 30+ years each in the hospitality industry. They know how to run restaurants, and they’re patiently waiting for the right space to become available in St. Pete for a second concept. When the moment comes, they’ll be ready.
But in the meantime, they’re having fun with Bonu. They’re tweaking recipes for the pinsa dough. They’re adding menu items as they hear from guests. They’re even working with a local distiller to start distributing the limoncello they make in-house.
And through it all, they’re waiting by the door to welcome the next person who walks in.
“We’re humbled and honored,” Mia said. “We feel like we did something. We feel like we’re pioneers for a truly European concept. We got together and really put all of our efforts together. We never doubted it would be successful, but we hoped people would take it in. For us it was like, ‘Wow, I hope they enjoy what we’re about to give them.’”
Based on the first year of feedback, Bonu has done just that.
“I just wish when they give us those compliments, they could see through us and see how our hearts are shining,” Mia said.