It was a match made in culinary heaven when two teen waiters met while working at a restaurant in Zastron Street. Today, the high school sweethearts Louise and Ezio Panelatti, have built together what can be considered a household name in local dining, Avanti Restaurant. With a shared love for good food and family they’re taking the restaurant industry to new heights.
Louise is a professional chef who gives a modern touch to traditional Italian dishes, which has been part of the winning formula for Avanti since it opened in 2007. The other part is the unmistakable authenticity of the menu with Ezio’s Italian mother, Lina, contributing to the restaurant’s team. She has, without a doubt, passed on her love of cooking, including making homemade pasta for her children. With Ezio and Louise’s two sons Ezio, 12 and Luca, 9 growing up in the restaurant business, it truly is a family affair.
“As we have developed throughout the years, we have kept the food authentically Italian but with a Free State flair to meet people halfway. My mom makes sure that everything is done the right way,” says Ezio.
This year has had difficulties for many but the couple were able to turn lemons into a seafood feast.
The couple, who have been married for 13 years, share their recipe for keeping a strong bond. “As a married couple it’s always a challenge to work together and not take that home, and working in an industry that goes beyond the typical 9 to 5 makes it even more so. We make an effort to switch off and take getaways together, so we won’t be tempted to run back to the restaurants whenever there’s a call,” says Ezio. “We also both have our own ideas about things but we meet each other halfway… though I usually win,” says Louise jokingly. “That’s the secret,” Ezio adds with a smile.
This year has had difficulties for many but the couple were able to turn lemons into a seafood feast. They opened Clear at Woodland Hills during lockdown and the new seafood and sushi restaurant just next door to Avanti offers dishes that satisfy both the eye and the taste buds. “We are always trying new and different things. The dishes are more refined but we take a lot of inspiration from social media as people don’t want to be bored with dining out. Now, more than ever, that’s become a luxury. We want to spoil our customers with a great dining experience, giving attention to detail on all levels,” says Louise.
“There’s nothing nicer for me than going home and making food there. We have a big family, so we invite everyone over,” says Louise.
While talking to the couple, it’s clear that their love for their sons runs even deeper than their passion for food. The couple raise their children to have strong family bonds as well as follow their dreams, with Ezio Jnr a budding soccer star and Luca the outspoken one in the family. “They have a lot in common because they’re so close in age. They have a strong relationship which tends to show when we’re not in town. Luca looks up to his older brother and supports him like no other when Ezio is playing a match,” says Louise.
It’s no surprise that the family spends their downtime at home around the table, making the food they love to enjoy with the people they love most. “There’s nothing nicer for me than going home and making food there. We have a big family, so we invite everyone over,” says Louise. “We spend a lot of time in the kitchen and the boys are always keen on participating, so that’s great,” Ezio agrees.
The pair express that the best ingredient in a successful restaurant brand is a hands-on approach to business, which has seen them expand throughout the years and even be able to keep 100% of their staff during the pandemic, despite the economic decline during the year. “The brand is very sentimental to us, it’s honestly like our third child,” Louise admits. “We could let the restaurants run themselves but that’s not what we’re about. Our customers come and they can interact with us while they enjoy an exceptional dining experience,” Ezio concludes.
Text: NOMAQHAWE MTEBELE Photo: PIERCE VAN HEERDEN