Convito: From Italy to Wilmette
Convito Café & Market is both an Italian/French restaurant that serves lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, as well as a gourmet market that features gourmet items such as pasta, sauces, imported groceries, soups, readymade meals, baked goods, gift baskets an
Convito Café & Market
1515 Sheridan Road
Updated: January 29, 2013 8:38AM
WILMETTE — Nancy Brussat Barocci has been in the restaurant business since 1980, and said her favorite part of running her successful Italian restaurant, Convito Café & Market has always been one thing: the food.
“Developing the menus is my favorite part,” said Barocci, who was a junior high school teacher prior to opening her first Italian market in the city when she was 39 years old. “It’s interesting and fun to try different things.”
Barocci learned how to cook in the late ’70s by Wanda Bottino, a local woman she met in Italy while living abroad. Barocci described her cooking teacher as “a riot and a truly gifted cook.”
“She hardly spoke English, she was feisty and full of energy and she was wonderful to me,” said Barocci, who traveled back and forth to Milan about 60 times over a five-year period. “We would cook in Wanda’s kitchen, and with her son, we would visit various regions and winemakers. I wanted to understand more than just the cooking, I wanted to learn the culture and the traditions.”
The two women ended up becoming business partners for several years, when Barocci opened her first market, Convito Italiano, located first in Chicago and then in Wilmette.
Convito Café & Market has been in the same location in Plaza del Lago since 2007, and is both an Italian/French restaurant that serves lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, as well as a market that features gourmet items such as pasta, sauces, imported groceries, soups, ready-made meals, baked goods, gift baskets and 150 different wines that are mostly Italian.
“Our prepared food is one of our biggest strengths,” said Barocci, who also writes a food and wine blog. “The lasagnas and cannelloni and our chicken dishes and salads are really popular.”
Boracci said she makes a big effort to change the menu frequently, because regular customers shop here so often, and want variety. That said, some things are never taken off the menu, like the tuna salad and lasagna.
“We shop at this market a lot,” said customer Julie Matthei, of Wilmette. “The food is great and it’s easy to get a nice meal that’s prepared well for the family.”
Candance Boracci Warner is Boracchi’s daughter, co-manager and business partner, who has worked in her mom’s restaurants since she was 9.
“I started out scooping sauce and brushing butter on bruschetta,” said Warner, who studied French and other languages at the University of Wisconsin and in France. “I was also a retail clerk and a server during summers of college.”
Warner had a career in cross-cultural training before becoming the general manager at Convito Italiano 17 years ago, and is now her mom’s partner and co-manager.
According to Warner, she and Boracci have different strengths, and they compliment each other well, with her mom focusing more on the food and display, and Warner taking care of the business end of things.
“She’s such an inspiration to me,” said Warner, who lives in Wilmette with her husband and two children. “To start this business at 39, and have it stand the test of time, and here we are still, and successful because of the creativity of the menu and good management.”
“I trusted Candace immediately,” said Boracci, “She grew so quickly and she’s good with numbers and managing and she’s talented.”
Boracci still does some of the cooking, but has trained Convito’s head chef since 2007, Noe Sanchez to make all her recipes, including the 21 pasta sauces she and Wanda created together almost four decades ago.
“I’ve always been so proud of my mom, and what she accomplished,” said Warner. “I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without her.”