Meet the father and son behind Sfizio Modern Italian Restaurant in north Phoenix

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Italian roots run deep but family ties run deeper for chef Rocco Pezzano and his son Marco Pezzano.

Bringing together childhood memories and traditional Italian flavors, the Pezzanos opened Sfizio Modern Italian Kitchen, a from-scratch neighborhood restaurant in north Phoenix last summer.

click to enlarge From wines to specialty cocktails, Sfizio serves all-day happy hour Monday through Friday at the bar. - NIKKI MICHELLE CHARNSTROM

From wines to specialty cocktails, Sfizio serves all-day happy hour Monday through Friday at the bar.

Nikki Michelle Charnstrom

Holding true to the scratch kitchen motto, the Pezzanos pride themselves on Sfizio’s homemade sauces, pasta, and bread.

“Italian cooking is not that complicated. It’s about the ingredients. That’s why we spend a little bit more time making our own pasta, making our own bread,” Rocco says, reiterating that a plate might look beautiful but its taste comes from the ingredients.

However, the best dish takes more than the right ingredients and a chef with years of experience. It comes down to a chef’s love for their craft. For Rocco, the restaurant business is the one thing he knows well and cooking is where his passion lies.

“Pretty much everything I do, I put my heart into,” he says.

After a long career as a chef and restaurant owner, Rocco closed the door on that chapter of his life for nearly a decade. Then, years later, his son posed the idea of opening a restaurant together.

In February 2021, they leased the space. In August, Sfizio welcomed its first customers.

“We had a lot of issues with help at the beginning. I was there pretty much seven days a week cooking. One week before I opened, I didn’t have any employees,” Rocco says. “I didn’t have anyone in the kitchen, so my plan B was to make two pizzas, two pastas, and two salads — I said that’s it, that’s all I’m going to do.”

Since their humble start, the Pezzanos have experimented and expanded their menu to include a vast variety of appetizers, salads, pasta, pizzas, desserts, and most recently an original creation called Sfizini. 

click to enlarge A selection of dishes from Sfizio Modern Italian Kitchen. - SFIZIO MODERN ITALIAN KITCHEN

A selection of dishes from Sfizio Modern Italian Kitchen.

Sfizio Modern Italian Kitchen

“We’re proud particularly because it’s unique to us. It’s something that we came up with ourselves, and obviously named it after our own place,” Marco says.

Sfizini is a vibrant and savory tribute to Rocco’s upbringing and his mother’s cooking. Always in the kitchen, she would craft a unique bite to eat for the family as a light snack before the main meal, he explained. She would often take a piece of bread, hollow out the center, and stuff the inside with classic Italian ingredients.

Sfizini is Rocco’s version of it, combining freshly baked bread and old-world flavors to bring his childhood memories to life. Customers can choose between eight different flavors, such as meatball and mozzarella, Italian sausage or sauteed eggplant, or pick a combination of three.

Opening a restaurant has sparked a genuinely healthy and wonderful relationship with his father, Marco says. As business partners, they have found a new layer to their already close bond.

“It’s an interesting dynamic going from being a kid who listens to their parents to now telling their parents what to do sometimes,” Marco says. “I’ve seen a lot of maturity and growth in myself. I grew up from being, you know, a kid with little to no responsibilities to now being involved in this, and I really honestly look up to him.”

Rocco and Marco recognize each other’s strengths and that has made all the difference in finding the balance they need to run the business together, the duo says.

click to enlarge Sfizio is a scratch kitchen serving homemade sauces, pasta, and bread. - NIKKI MICHELLE CHARNSTROM

Sfizio is a scratch kitchen serving homemade sauces, pasta, and bread.

Nikki Michelle Charnstrom

Marco, a current architecture student at Arizona State University, influenced the restaurant’s modern design and chic aesthetic, while his father Rocco developed a distinctive menu true to his lineage in southern Italy.

A mutual understanding and genuine respect for one another accelerated early business decisions and necessary restaurant renovations. The general assumption that opening a family restaurant can be hard doesn’t seem to phase them.

For the Pezzanos, their motto, “Family first — then family running a business” is how they stay focused on their values and priorities. Eager to get the Pezzano name out there, Rocco and Marco are focused on honing their craft, the Sfizio experience, and the food they want to be known for — encouraging each other with the phrase, “Let’s take this to the next level.”

Marco is helping his dad adjust to the current, social media-dependant world of restaurants.

“Back when [dad] was running restaurants it was basically essential that you have good food because there was nothing else to kind of gauge your restaurant off of. There was no social media, there was no buzz, there was no trendiness….it was just, ‘Hey this place has really great food, let’s go eat there.’ Now, restaurants have turned into more of an experience,” Marco says, “We’re trying to do both here.”

While the hype or “buzz” is an aspect they would like for their restaurant, it’s not all they want. A lot of trendy restaurants have subpar food but you go for the unique atmosphere or experience, Marco says. Sfizio aims to blend both the experience and a high-quality menu, two aspects of the restaurant industry that are equally important to them.

“From my perspective, I think one thing in the restaurant industry today that’s different from a long time ago is you lose a lot of personality. It’s not often that you go to a restaurant and know that it’s family-owned but that you actually see the family in there,” Marco says.

click to enlarge Sfizio is located in North Phoenix across from Desert Ridge Marketplace. - NIKKI MICHELLE CHARNSTROM

Sfizio is located in North Phoenix across from Desert Ridge Marketplace.

Nikki Michelle Charnstrom

At Sfizio, Rocco and Marco can be found working side by side in the restaurant they’ve built together. From the Italian menu derived from Rocco’s roots to the bold sign Marco constructed that reads “Sfizio” proudly on the wall, Sfizio embodies the bond of this father and son duo.

Sfizio Modern Italian Kitchen

21050 North Tatum Boulevard, Unit 110
www.sfizioitaliano.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday



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