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North End restaurateur Gianmarco Rinaldi talks about his Gatsby-inspired State Street restaurant and Boston’s best pizza

The Naples native loves his morning espresso and the local seafood at Market Basket

Gianmarco Rinaldi opens Joia in April.Handout

He might start his day with two leisurely espressos near his home in the North End, but Gianmarco Rinaldi, 32, is busy otherwise: He plans to open Joia Restaurant at the Harborside Inn on State Street in April. The Naples native, former pizza-maker, and one-time Trattoria Il Panino and COJE group manager (Mariel, Yvonne’s) hopes to achieve a Gilded Age ambiance at the downtown spot.

Tell me about the new restaurant.

It’s inspired by “The Great Gatsby,” where people come in, have a great time, with a nice vibe. People will experience great Italian food with tradition but plated in a modern way. Today, food is not enough anymore. People are looking for the whole experience. I think if I can combine the experience with traditional Italian recipes, with the music and lights — I hope it will be a success. We’ll have a patio and a very nice lounge.

What’s going to be on the menu?


There will be all the traditional Italian recipes: calamari, eggplant involtini, caprese salad with imported buffalo mozzarella, handmade mozzarella breaded and deep fried with pesto cream on it. We have a few pastas: spaghetti carbonara; lobster; spaghetti with clams, mussels, and shrimp. On the main course side, we’ll have steak and a tasty, juicy salmon. It will be open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so the menu will change accordingly. We’ll have a full sit-down breakfast with eggs Benedict and pancakes. We’ll put a few pasta dishes on for lunchtime, so we can get people who are around for business.

Are you a chef?

I’m a pizza chef. In Italy, we’re called flour-makers, basically. I went to culinary school when I was younger, and slowly I moved to the front of the house. I know all aspects of the kitchen. I did work in the kitchen in Italy for a while. When I moved to the United States, I started to be on the front-of-the-house side a little more. I managed a few places in the North End for quite a long time. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Trattoria Il Panino. I was the general manager. I worked at all of DePasquale’s venues. I learned everything that I know about the front of the house from those venues. Then I wanted to have a more corporate experience, and that’s why I moved to COJE until I found this opportunity.


What brought you from Italy to the United States?

I moved to Boston about seven years ago, but I used to go back and forth because my brother has a restaurant in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I used to go when the summer season was done in Italy. I’d learn what American hospitality means, what the customer wants from an American point of view. After that, I decided to move permanently to Boston, and [restaurateur] Frank DePasquale accepted me like a son with open arms. When I started this journey here, it was like the American dream, starting from the bottom. If you work hard like I did, one day you get to own your own restaurant.

Basically, 50, 60, or 70 years ago, people from Italy came to the United States. Most of those people were living on the harbor of Naples. My uncle left Italy 60 or 70 years ago. My uncle went from Naples to Philadelphia, and then he moved to Gettysburg. That’s why my brother moved there 15 years ago. Now he’s a successful restaurant owner as well.


What are your impressions of the Boston restaurant scene?

One of the reasons why I moved to Boston permanently and not in with my brother is because Boston is a big city, but it has a small community. People know each other. It’s very welcoming. It’s closer to Europe in a lot of ways. There are very talented chefs from all over the world. I think it’s big enough to give a chance to everybody, whoever wants the American dream. The food is amazing. Gordon Ramsay is here; Fox & the Knife is here and [chef Karen Akunowicz] does a wonderful job. COJE’s chef [Tom Berry], believe it or not, he beat Bobby Flay. There’s a great chance to grow in the hospitality business here as well.

Where do you eat when you’re not working?

Believe it or not, I don’t eat Italian when I go out! I love to eat French food. I love Coquette in the Seaport. If I want a nice pizza, I’ll go to Quattro in the North End. If I want Japanese, one of my favorite places is downtown. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it? Ruka. If I feel like my mom’s cooking, I’ll go to Trattoria Il Panino. But if I want a plate of pasta, I’ll cook for myself in the house.

Where do you shop?


This is a very interesting question. I do Trader Joe’s a lot. I do Whole Foods a lot. I like to shop at Market Basket because all the seafood is 100 percent local. Because I live in the North End, sometimes I’ll run and get something quick at the Star Market at North Station.

What do you like about living in the North End?

I like to live in the North End, because I wake up in the morning and first things first: I go to my local coffee shop and get a nice espresso. That’s how I start my day. My two favorite coffee shops are Dolce on Hanover Street — and then, because I have a routine of two espressos, I go to Caffè Dello Sport on the corner of Prince and Hanover Street. They do a fantastic job. They make me feel like I’m in Naples.

What do you do in your spare time when you’re not working?

I exercise a lot. I like to relieve my stress by boxing. I do some footage with my drone around Boston. I follow the stock market and trade a little bit. I take walks with my wife a lot. We like to walk all over the city. I don’t like to drive at all, so we walk a lot in the South End and eat a lot at a place called Kava. It’s a great place. We walk from the North End to Kava; when the sun is out, it’s a very nice walk.


What’s your favorite snack?

Believe it or not, I don’t have snacks. I eat only twice a day, lunch and dinner. But the first thing that comes to my mind is pizza. I’m not talking about chains. I’m talking about some nice artisanal pizza with homemade dough by a Neapolitan pizza-maker, a nice margherita with buffalo mozzarella on it.

Which means I have to ask: Who has the best pizza in Boston?

As I was saying, Boston is very close to Europe. It’s challenging to make the best pizza. Two or three restaurants come to my mind. There is definitely Quattro in the North End; they do a fantastic job. Rina’s does a great job. And then there’s a place downtown that’s been there for a while now. It’s called MAST’. He does a great job; the pizza-maker is a Neapolitan guy who was born and raised in Naples. He follows the recipe almost religiously.

Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her @kcbaskin.