For 34 years, Piccola Italia has been a Cameron Village institution. We sat down with the owner of Piccola Italia, Frank Amato, and his daughter Natasha Taylor to learn more about the man behind the restaurant.
“He didn’t come from much,” says Natasha. “He came from nothing. His family was very poor. I think that pushed him to be successful in life. I think growing up the way that he did is why he is here today.”
Frank started working at a very young age. At 12 years old, he would sell ice cream and fish on the streets of Carini, a small town in the province of Palermo, Sicily. His introduction to fine Italian cuisine wouldn’t come until his time in the Italian army where, ironically, he was put in a kitchen as a punishment.
He was assigned to wash dishes in a “mensa ufficiale” (the place where many of the Italian officers would dine). One day, the owner’s husband got sick and she needed some help in the kitchen, so she started teaching him how to cook.
Then from Sicily to Switzerland to Venezuela to New Jersey to New York to opening his first restaurant in Pennsylvania to Frank’s Pizza in the Longview Shopping Center and finally Raleigh, North Carolina.
Some of the same customers have been following Frank and his cooking for almost 40 years and have started to become like family.
The Cameron Village Family
“I love the customers. I love people and making them happy,” says Natasha. “We don’t really have family here. My mom is from North Carolina but we don’t really know her family that much. His family is in Italy or Pennsylvania. I think the cool thing is that a lot of the customers became family to us.”
“I don’t really have grandparents. The older people would adopt me and my older brother as their grandkids. There used to be a little toy store next door and the Mannings would take us next door. And we’ve had customers that came to my wedding.”
“I raised two kids inside this place,” says Frank. “My daughter, when I opened this place, she was 8 months old.”
It’s the kind of love that has led some of his customers to follow him from restaurant to restaurant for almost four decades.