Love and passion are the foundations of southern Italy. The jewel-toned sea, the mighty Mount Vesuvius, the whisper of a rushing wind carries you to this fiery landscape where a halo of calmness cuffs your soul. A place where the rich aroma of local cuisine redolent of legends and traditions is the playground of the jet-setters. Don Alfonso 1890, run by the Iaccarino family, in the heart of Sant’Agata in Amalfi Coast, is that alluring place for nobility, food connoisseurs and lovers.
Thanks to Nick Di Donato, President and CEO of Liberty Entertainment Group, and Nadia Di Donato, Vice President & Creative Director, the Michelin star awarded Don Alfonso 1890 has enriched Toronto’s fine dining experience. A match made in heaven, the culinary romance and the upscale sophistication of Amalfi Coast merged with the expertise of Liberty Entertainment Group is brought to the hip and sparkling Toronto. The narrative, the Mediterranean flavours, the phenomenal culinary, the creativity, the exceptional service, the remarkable art unleashes the Proustian effect. A revival of an impression from our past life, a lost memory, a heartwarming movie, a desire, or simply living a splendid lifestyle has been introduced in our modern and booming metropolis. The elegant restaurant is an oasis for titans of the financial district, visionary moguls, charming clans or driven patrons.
Jupilings: What are the branding principles in entertainment/lifestyle that you want to manifest in your creative designs-
NDD: For individual venue: Firstly, I want to establish the intended perceived image of the restaurant in the first 30 seconds of entering and then the subsequent emotional response to the entire experience. My design is not limited to space itself; it extends through the many layers from artwork; to furniture; to tableware; to the menu and collateral design; to wardrobe. The details create the “design magic” that is at the essence of customer experience.
By design, These establishments are either located in historically designated properties or in signature neighbourhoods throughout the city. These classic shells provide a particular opportunity to juxtapose traditional elements with a new modern design which has now somewhat become signature to Liberty Group.
Today, with an impressive collection of uniquely designed venues ranging from casual eateries, nightclubs, elegant restaurants, large banquet facilities and its crowning jewel Casa Loma, under my creative direction, the Liberty Entertainment Group has gained recognition as one of North America’s top hospitality companies.
Jupilings: What are the elements you consider when it comes to design and to conceptualise an entertainment venue-
NDD: One of the most interesting projects that a designer can take on is designing a restaurant. It can be daunting and stressful to come up with concepts. At times I find myself stumbling upon some “design magic” through the exploratory process. Narrowing it down to a final design concept and then seeing it through the build process to customer enjoyment which is a very rewarding experience.
Conceptualisation: All design components revolve around clearly defining my target market. Every detail departs from that one notion…”How do I want the customer to feel.”
Once I have that clear understanding in mind, I establish the identity of the restaurant by pairing a design style palette (ie, furnishing, coloring, lighting, construction materials) with a visual components package (ie: tableware, uniforms, signage, logo, menus, marketing collateral, etc) which I use as my framework to ensure the overall image of the restaurant is cohesive and consistent. This phase is the most crucial part of the overall process. It results in a design vision that guides the entire project.
Personal design style: I see interior spaces more through the eyes of an artist rather than as a technical interior designer. I’m always thinking out of the box and very hands-on working closely with my construction team (whom I’ve been working with for over 25 years. When I walk into a raw space, I always consider the existing elements that can be utilised in my design. Since most of my design projects are located in historically designated buildings, I have an immense appreciation and respect for the intricate details of historic design and always juxtapose original with new.
Personally, I am an art lover and a believer that fine art is like an accent piece of jewellery. Signature to my design is my inclusion of individually curated or commissioned art pieces tailored to reflect the personality of the space, elevating the dining experience by adding originality and intrigue.
Jupilings: Regarding your latest venue Don Alfonso 1890 Toronto, what influenced Liberty Group to introduce Mediterranean fine dining experience-
NDD: Firstly our roots are Italian; therefore it was a natural fit to partner with Chefs Alfonso and Ernesto in this special restaurant. It is the first restaurant of its kind in Toronto to showcase father and son world-class Michelin star chefs. A display of incredible talent in a beautiful space unlike any other in the city. (If I’m allowed to say so myself 🙂
The intention was to elevate the bar in the local hospitality industry in hopes of establishing a new standard of dining and capture the attention of critics on a global scale including the recognition of soon to be Michelin rating in Canada (Michelin to date has not published in Canada). (Word has it that they will be doing so as of November this year. We like to think that perhaps with Don Alfonso in Toronto; we were partially responsible for this finally happening.)
Jupilings: What sentiments you want to capture in Don Alfonso 1890 ’s ambience-
NDD: When I experienced Don Alfonso 1890 in the Amalfi Coast, the concept that resonated with me the most was the simplistic yet intricate contrast in the food. The contrast between classic ingredients prepared with a fresh, clean, organic, sophisticated approach. That is what I wanted to capture in the space. The contrast between the historical setting of this original mid-19th-century building provided the perfect backdrop to juxtapose a fresh, clean, sophisticated modern approach to the interior space. Everything in the restaurant from art installations, furniture, upholstery, lighting, linens, uniforms, menus, dishware, glassware, silverware and accessories are custom designed to reflect the above.
A few design details listed below:
I chose a Desk rather than hostess stand for a more inviting Concierge-style reception.
A newly designed 30’ waterfall feature with intricate Italian porcelain inlay adorns the bar area to give the sense of water of the Amalfi coast.
Temperature controlled champagne room featuring our extensive inventory of fine champagne.
Original wine cellar built in the mid 19th century houses our broad range of wines.
Open concept Kitchen designed for transparency and guest interaction takes up 50% of the restaurant floor plate. Guests are walked through the kitchen at the end of their dining experience.
Design: 38” counter heights for clearer sight line from the dining room into the kitchen
Material: sleek Carrera laminate in 5’ x 10’ porcelain sheets used for counters ideal for cleanliness and durability.
The main dining room is designed to showcase our chef eight-course tasting classic and contemporary menus. Round tables and fine linen were intentionally used to facilitate fluid formal dining service. Custom Cartier style chairs ergonomically designed for maximum comfort.
The mezzanine area is designed in contrast to the main dining room. The custom furniture and design exudes a more casual atmosphere conducive to the al-a-carte menu and molecular drink program. Fabrics and furniture styling is an eclectic combination of cowhide, leather, and linen sofas and chairs custom designed to dining height. The extensive 38’ kitchen/bar showcases food and drinks preparation at all times.
Jupilings: What kind of experience your audience will gain at Don Alfonso 1890-
NDD: Don Alfonso 1890 is the first restaurant in North America from Michelin Star Chefs Alfonso and Ernesto Iaccarino exposing our audience to a menu of Amalfi coast flavours in an interior accented by priceless art.
Housed in the historical Consumer’s Gas Building the interior design offers a sense of glamour and opulence yet comfort and relaxation. Not only is the experience captured through the surroundings, but it is also about the artistry in food design, custom designed plating, the finest linens, every last detail is intended to transport guests on an extraordinary gastronomical experience unparalleled to any other in the city.
Jupilings: What does intelligent and elegant design mean to you-
NDD: Intelligent design is an interpretation of the function of space and successfully transforming that space into a showcase. Since my background is in graphic design, each project is an art piece. Design should be timeless, sophisticated, clever and primarily relevant to the intention of the restaurant. The most important element is using colours and materials that translate to the intended feel of the space rather than those latest trending palettes.
Jupilings: Best piece of advice you’ve been given-
NDD: Interior design is like fashion, it changes. Stay away from anything that might date itself or will be so flashy or interesting that it’s going to take away from the intended experience. It is best when you feel it, but it doesn’t get in the way. Also, not really specific to design, I was once told not to take my work too seriously as I’d miss all the fun. 🙂
Jupilings: As a female entrepreneur and creative individual, can you please share five tips to tap into one’s potential to achieve one’s career or entrepreneurial aspirations-
NDD: Find a career to which you are adapted by nature, and then work hard at it. That is about as near to a formula for success as one will ever get.
When creating and innovating, work is play. Never take yourself too seriously. Don’t be afraid of thinking out of the box. Never accept the notion that it can’t be done.
Never be afraid of taking risks. If it doesn’t go well. It will be your most valuable lesson.
There is really never a right or wrong to a design style. Whatever your approach, hone it and own it.
Be blind to the difference between a male or female entrepreneur. There is no difference:) I never believed there were obstacles because I am a woman.
80% of my work is construction. I am always surrounded by men. And I’ve never been phased by it one bit 🙂
Jupilings: What’s one branding lesson you’ve learned in your career and ventures-
NDD: In hospitality, You can’t be all things to all people. The most important and expensive lesson I learned was not to ever waiver. Research, focus, execute from A to Z and stay true to what you set off to do. This has been the tried and true formula for the success of the Liberty Group. Although a diverse portfolio, each venue is expert in and very specific to its particular concept.
Jupilings: How do you deal with setbacks-
NDD: In any situation, I will always see the cup half full. There is no problem that doesn’t have a solution. I never sweat the small stuff. Moreover, I never dwell on a problem.
No one is immune to setbacks. Trust me I have had many. Whether personal or professional it always made me a little wiser, stronger, and better for it.
Trust that you are capable of doing amazing things—and even more so if you have to work through tough challenges.
I never blame. Exploring the way forward is much healthier than trying to blame someone or something. Stay focused on the bigger picture, commit to it and no matter what, see it through from start to finish.
Jupilings: Who inspires you and why-
NDD: On a personal level, my husband and my two sons truly inspire me every day. Their ambition, perseverance, focus and accomplishments constantly give me the drive to accomplish slightly more than I did yesterday.
As a designer and businesswomen, I draw inspiration from the experiences I’ve acquired through extensive travel. The privilege of interacting with the diversities of various cultures has defined my creative style. My designs are often an infusion of elements inspired from all corners of the world.
Jupilings: What does it mean to be a woman today-
NDD: I have been extremely fortunate to come from a pedigree of very strong independent, accomplished women. Also, am grateful to have been provided opportunities denied to many previous generations of women, being able to spend time with my children and travel, while working and creating a successful business.
I have always felt that no matter the gender, there are no limits to what someone can accomplish through determination, hard work and focus.
Today, the sky’s the limit for women across the world. Being a woman in 2018 means being a warrior for constant change. I stand on the shoulders of the brilliant women before me. Every day I try always to be aware of what they have afforded me, and I am grateful for the tools I was given.
Today women are empowered to find out where the struggles for equality still lie, and have a responsibility to reach out to those who need support, and speak out about the areas of inequality that persist.
Jupilings: What is your life motto-
NDD: If you can see it in your mind, you will hold it in your hands. Keep working. Stay persistent. One day you will wake up exactly where you want to be.