Lucio Fanni has owned restaurants in the San Francisco and Santa Cruz areas for 27 years. For the past seven, he has owned Caffe Lucio on Soquel Avenue, where he works with partner Mirjam Kuusik—with whom he has two kids and a yellow Labrador Retriever that frequents the restaurant. The restaurant has a flavor all its own—with animal masks for the chefs to wear, disco lights at night and loud music (his longtime trademark). I chatted with Fanni and Kuusik at the bar as they got ready to open restaurant for the day.
SCW: What’s the dog’s name?
LUCIO FANNI: Romeo! And I had Alpha, his sister. She died. [To Romeo] You my baby, you! Yeah. He is a part of the restaurant.
Is it hard to make food with a mask on?
LF: No, I can see. But it’s so normal for me, I know where everything is. I can be blind in there.
MIRJAM KUUSIK: Often it’s the customers who dig into the customer box and decorate each other. Growing up’s overrated. You don’t just have to suddenly turn 30 and be serious and work 9 to 5 and golf on the weekends. You can go and have fun. You don’t have to party with college kids, but you can have fun.
What happened to Mama Lucia?
MK: We sold in September.
LF: Too much work.
MF: Well also, the kids got older. And priorities change. Suddenly they have to go to school, and if they have school until 2:30, and we work nights, we never see them.
How do you make your steak?
LF: Very simple. Basic—all the time: medium rare or rare. I have a lot of customers—I don’t know why—who order well done. I tell them ‘No, no! I make it Lucio way!’ A little bit of sea salt, a little bit of fresh pepper, a little bit of rosemary—that’s it, done.
Do you ever go back to Italy?
LF: Sì, I just come back in January. Time goes fast. Go for two weeks and see my sister.
What do you think of your reputation as a flamboyant, larger-than-life personality?
LF: If you don’t see Lucio screaming, something’s wrong. It’s good. It’s an Italian restaurant.