Eateries Book Focuses on People, by Denise Favro Schwartz
Springfield Republican Sunday Magazine:
“When your hobby is dining out at the trendiest restaurants, as Carol Colitti Levine writes in the forward to her book about the people behind the city’s vibrant dining scene, it makes sense that her desire to own a restaurant would be as sweet and fat as crème brûlée. Having enjoyed careers in international banking and teaching, and having moved from Springfield to New York, then fourteen years in San Francisco, and back home to Western Massachusetts to raise her son near family, Levine found herself still dreaming of fine food and the establishments that served it. New to Northampton, she resumed her hobby of searching out the best places to dine.
It didn’t take long to realize she had moved to “the Valley of Great Dining.” In the back of her mind was the thought of opening a place of her own. On a visit to Manhattan with her husband to have dinner with old friends, she reconnected with Joy Simmen Hamburger, who had published a cookbook of recipes from restaurants in Tribeca. With marketing instincts on overdrive, she used friends as focus groups, answering their questions about what she wanted to do with her life now that she had left corporate life behind. Her answer? A cheerful, “I want to open a restaurant. “They all told me I was crazy,” she said, over coffee in one of Northampton’s busy bistros, just a few weeks before the publication of her book. They cited the long hours, financial risks, employee turnover, small kitchens, she said. She wondered why anyone would ever want to own a restaurant if it was so bad. So she did other things with her life. Time went by. Her former boss called and asked Levine to act as Managing Director of the Dutch Bank in Boston, suffering the two-hour commute, each way, for years. Finally, she said “bye-bye, bank” for a final time…
She reasoned that if it was too crazy to open a restaurant, she could write a book about the crazy people who had. Northampton’s rich menu of dining spots offered great material. And she was ready to tell the stories. Levine examines the Hotel Northampton, as well as the Wiggins Tavern and Coolidge Park Cafe within it, Fitzwilly’s, Eastside Grill, Spoleto, Pizzeria Paradiso, Del Raye Bar and Grill, Spoleto Express, Mulino’s, Brasserie 40A, Bishop’s Lounge, Green Street Cafe, Circa, La Veracruzana, India House, the Great Wall and Curtis and Schwartz Cafe. She is careful to point out that her book is not a cookbook or a book about restaurants. While a delicious selection of recipes occupies the back of the book, its main courses are the tales of the people who made the eateries happen.
“It’s about people,” she said. Claudio Guerra is one of them. The owner of Spoleto, Spoleto Express, Pizzeria Paradiso and Del Raye Bar and Grill, Guerra said, “‘The book was a great idea,'” according to Levine. “I spent two hours hearing his life story.” She was intrigued… Levine said that although she had an idea of where she wanted her book to go, she “let the process” guide the way. “I was naive about everything,” she said, except marketing. “That’s what I did professionally.” She had a marketing plan and started to do homework regarding publishing. She began to interview restaurant owners or managers, many of whom she learned about from other restaurateurs. She was fascinated by how the stories of one person linked with another, how “their paths had crossed.”
Altogether, Levine interviewed 20 past and current movers and shakers in Northampton’s restaurant scene. “It was like herding cats” trying to reach them, she said. From these experts in the field Levine loved, she said she learned “that it was even harder to run a restaurant than I’d thought. And it’s not very glamorous. When I had thought about owning a restaurant, I’d had this image of sitting on a stool at Elaine’s (in New York) hanging out and enjoying the life. It’s not like that at all.” From her conversations, Levine realized that the reasons people went into the restaurant business – their love of cooking, fresh food, and gardening, their creativity, and their own stories about their connections to the family kitchen – were the things she wanted to write about. “I have to tell everybody’s stories,” she said. “The book is people’s life stories. The recipes are the bonus at the end.”