A Taste of Italy

Massimo Albano '98, '05G followed his dream of owning a restaurant.

by Sally Parker

Massimo Albano in his restaurant Lemoncello

At night, Massimo Albano '98, '05G dreams of Vaglio, his hometown in Italy.

"To me, my town was this magical little town on top of a hill you always think about," he says. "I could walk through it right now and know exactly where the steps are, where the alleyways are, the doorways to the older plazas."

Albano has poured his dreams into Lemoncello, the East Rochester restaurant he opened 10 years ago with his brother, Fausto. Some customers have been coming in several times a week for years. (They also own Sambuca, a restaurant and dance club across the street.) As word has spread, more people are coming from outside the area.

"That was our goal, to have people come into the little town. There's restaurants in ER that had been there for generations. We wanted to do something with a different look, a different feel, a different attitude," he says.

The restaurant reflects Albano's roots in two continents. He was born in the United States while his parents were visiting his uncle on vacation in Rochester. But he grew up in Vaglio, a town in the Basilicata region nestled between Calabria and Puglia.

When he was in his early teens, the family moved to Rochester to join relatives in the masonry and construction business.

"As a family, we all go back to visit family and keep those relations alive and strong while keeping up with culture," Albano says. "It's important to know the culture for what it is today as well as how we imagined it yesterday."

Hints of a future in the restaurant business came while Albano worked at the Colosseum on Park Avenue during college. He loved working the counter and joking with colleagues who also came from other parts of the world — Greece, Ukraine, Brazil, Bosnia. It felt like home.

"It provided normalcy at that point in my life," he recalls.

After he graduated with a degree in international studies, Albano held corporate jobs at J.P. Morgan and Verizon. He also worked at Gucci in Italy. They were good jobs, but something wasn't right. He was tired and discouraged at the end of the day, "and I'd think, 'I need someplace I can work where I feel like I'm serving someone and having fun.'"

A lifelong dream of owning a restaurant played on repeat in the back of his mind.

"It reminded me of the sights and sounds and smells of growing up in Italy," he says.

So, when the perfect building came up, the Albano brothers quickly created a 10-year plan, he says — "and, amazingly, we stuck to the plan."

They set out to create a restaurant that offers a warm Mediterranean embrace, with terra cotta tiles and ironwork, and food prepared the way it would be in the old country.

"Customers feel like they're really in Italy, or like they imagine Italy to be, and that's what we wanted to create," Albano says.

He speaks with pride about the crew in his employ. Retaining great staff, a lesson he learned in his corporate jobs, is one of Albano's biggest priorities. Some employees have been on board since the beginning.

He is grateful and finds time to reflect. When he is driving near Nazareth, he turns into campus for a look around. Sometimes he drives over to where the soccer field was when he was playing and stops for a moment. He has fond memories of the place.

"I reminisce a lot. I go there to think," Albano says, his voice growing soft. "I get reinvigorated. I loved it. I loved it."

Sally Parker is a Rochester-based freelance writer. Photo by Kurt Brownell.

Albano's Advice

Albano earned a master’s degree in management at Nazareth. His advice for anyone who wants to own a business someday: “If you’re not organized and you can’t manage your time, it’s going to be tough.”