One worldly chef. Two different restaurant concepts. How Chef Nicola Allegretta is heating up the Central Coast’s culinary scene one unique flavor at a time.
At a very young age, Chef Nicola Allegretta distinctly remembers his intense curiosity for all things food. Watching his ‘mama’ in the kitchen, Nicola would stay up at night boiling pasta, assembling sausage and soaking up the traditional cooking methods of authentic Italian cuisine.
This childhood passion fueled his culinary creativity as Nicola expanded his horizons traveling and working throughout Italy as a young adult. And it didn’t stop there. He went on to receive a degree from the Italian Culinary Institute of Bary in Puglia, Italy. Nicola then traveled throughout France, England,
Germany, and the Dominican Republic before landing in the United States in 1999, taking a position at Epcot in Orlando.
Soon thereafter, Nicola relocated to Los Angeles where he opened three restaurants in the area. Now happily on the west coast, he found himself drawn to the rolling hills of San Luis Obispo – of which reminded him of the picturesque scenery of Italy. It was here that Nicola got the inspiration to open Mama’s Meatball – paying tribute to his mother’s passion for Italian cooking.
At Mama’s, it’s truly a family affair. Nicola brought his brothers, Cosimo (head chef) and Luca, over from Italy to help run Mama’s. Mama herself serves as the resident baking queen, Nicola’s father runs the back of the house and his cousin Ilario handles the front. Together – along with their extremely dedicated team – Mama’s is now ranked amongst the best restaurants in San Luis Obispo, priding itself in using only the finest and freshest locally grown ingredients.
“Now more than ever, people are concerned about what they’re putting in their bodies,” said Nicola. “What you eat truly does affect your body. At both Mama’s and Mistura, we take immense pride in serving our guests with the freshest locally sourced products. We’re grateful that we can lean on Jordano’s to provide us with a wide selection of such items for our establishments. Unlike some foodservice companies, they never upsell us on products. They’re very loyal, honest and always bring new menu concepts to the table.”
Speaking of new menu concepts, Nicola’s Peruvian-inspired restaurant, Mistura, brings the vibrant flavors and unique spices of Peru to San Luis Obispo. “Mistura means to mix or blend,” said Nicola. “It’s the perfect name as we aim to bring together familiar flavors with those that are completely unexpected. Peru is such a melting pot with its heritage peppered by Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, and Italian influences. My wife, Jackeline, is from Peru. So, as with Mama’s, I set the bar extremely high to ensure each dish is as authentic as possible.”
With dishes like Alpaca Carpaccio (thinly sliced Andes alpaca, aji amarillo, cherry tomatoes, avocado, aji verde and micro arugula) and Carapulcra (pork stew with papa seca – dehydrated Andean potatoes – cooked with aji panca, hierba buena, finished with a sprig of fresh mint), it’s clear to see that Nicola is living up to his mission.
“One of the biggest keys to success that I can impart on any business owner is to do everything with love,” said Nicola. “Treat people the way you’d want to be treated. Put your heart and soul into everything you do. Take care of the community you serve, and always be honest in your profession. If what you serve isn’t good, don’t serve it. If the products you use aren’t working, change them. Set your menu at a fair price based on what you’re actually serving. What you put out, you get back in return, so always try to give your very best.”
Nicola urges other chefs to move outside their comfort zone, even if with just one dish. “Bring your passion to the plate. A fun way to do this is with seasonal menu items. Don’t be scared to be different and push the boundaries. Although you don’t want to completely do away with original favorites, I find people truly appreciate unique menu experiences.”
One of the resources Chef Nicola utilizes to keep his menus fresh and exciting is his Jordano’s Account Executive, Rob Kaplan. “Rob always brings creative, new items to my attention and works with us to figure out how best to implement them into our menus. He was the one who introduced us to the Jordano’s family, helping me transform my business from day one. The service you get from Jordano’s is truly personalized. They’re not a part of the establishment, so I never question their integrity.”
With two completely different business concepts, how best to market each separate company comes into question. And, although a lot of their clientele is derived by word of mouth, utilizing social media plays an important role. “We use an external marketing agency to manage our social media outlets,” said Nicola. “Make sure your posts are personable. Promote your specials or new menu items, and make sure the pictures are enticing.”
Nicola also suggests making your website as robust as possible. “We’ve noticed many patrons browse our websites ahead of time, coming prepared with their orders or thoughts on what they’d like to eat. Make sure your website is easy to navigate, accurately portrays your restaurant, is current, and includes your full menu so nothing is missed.”
Article by Kiersta Halseth Tibbetts, Assistant Director of Marketing, Jordano’s Foodservice