Alessandro Canali stands above his gardens that overlook the Longbranch Marina. He and his wife, Shelley, have worked for two years restoring the grounds, gardens and building for Trattoria da Vincenzo and Longbranch B&B. Photo: Danna Webster, KP News

After their Italian vacation, Alessandro and Shelley Canali returned to their Longbranch restaurant project ready to complete its final phases and open this winter. However, a sign on a new gate across the Longbranch Marina pier hit them like sticker shock on a new Lamborghini.  The sign claims the wharf as county property and closes it to all access.

“When we came back from Italy, that sign was not a nice surprise,” say Alessandro who has spent the last two years working with his wife Shelley to restore the building, once known as the Chowder House, across from the marina.

The Canali’s plan a bed and breakfast business with an intimate dining facility on the main floor. In their business plan, they expected 50 percent of the restaurant clientele would be generated by guests at the Marina during boating season. “They can kill the little business we are growing with this,” Alessandro says about the county’s no trespassing action.

The Trattoria da Vincenzo and Longbranch B&B project is the culmination of the business backgrounds of the Canali’s, who met in Rome in 2001. After their marriage, Shelley began the Really Rome business managing two holiday apartments above the original Trattoria da Vincenzo in the historic Trastevere neighborhood of Rome. Prior to Really Rome, Shelley was the director of a study abroad center near the Pantheon, a program for several large American universities.

By opening Trattoria da Vincenzo in Longbranch, Alessandro is returning to his family’s roots. The original Trattoria was opened by his grandfather in downtown Rome in 1950 and run by his father until the 1980s. His recipes have been influenced by the dishes of his grandparents who came from the central regions of Italy. The food reflects many cultures and is both a shepherd’s and a fisherman’s cuisine. When Alessandro is not in the da Vincenzo kitchen and gardens, he works as a Washington state foreign law consultant.

Shelley and Alessandro are proud parents to three children: Vincenzo, who was born in Rome in 2008, and Paola and Olivia, twin girls born at Swedish Hospital in Seattle in 2010. Shelley grew up in Kingston and is happy to bring her family to the Puget Sound area.  However, finding the Key Peninsula was a “random” event according to Alessandro. Once found, they fell in love with the area and, with the discovery of the former Chowder House building, their new business plan fell into place.

“The first time we saw it, it wasn’t for sale,” Alessandro says, but it went on the market one week later. It took a year of bank negotiations before the property that, according to records was first a hotel built in 1886, became theirs. The last two years have been spent in restoring the building and grounds. “We found very good workers from the area. They did all the details,” he says.  The main floor décor is Italian while the rooms upstairs are a northwest nautical theme. Alessandro proudly points out the view from the windows and says, “From here it is like being on a cruise.”

Closing the Marina is not the only difficulty the Canali’s have had working with Pierce County. Permits and building requirements have also been a challenge. “I find very nice people in the County, but it is the (bureaucratic) process,” Alessandro says noting that the septic and refrigeration requirements are costing thousands of dollars and are equivalent to requirements of a large public restaurant like MacDonald’s.

If the Marina is going to remain closed, Alessandro will postpone completion of the commercial kitchen and the Canali’s will focus on the lodging facilities. “Every day has its own fight, as we say in Italy. So we go one step at a time,” he says. More information about the Canali’s and their restaurant can be found online at www.reallyrome.com.org.

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