Restaurant opening dates are fluid! The latest is Tuesday, October 2nd. I’m Eddie Cano has been posting updates on its Kickstarter page.
by Katherine Saltzman
The owners of I’m Eddie Cano, a new restaurant featuring American-Italian food as well as traditional, mainland Italian cuisine, expect to open on September 27th in the former Banana Leaf location at 5014 Connecticut Avenue.
The restaurant is owned and operated by longtime friends and business partners Massimo Papetti and James Gee, with business and marketing support from Carolyn Papetti, Massimo’s wife.
All three have extensive restaurant experience and met in 2005 in East Hampton, New York while working at an Italian restaurant called Cittanuova. James Gee then worked as a head chef for Jose Andres’ Jaleo in Bethesda and China Chilcano in Penn Quarter and more recently served as head chef for Andres’ ThinkFoodGroup.
When the Papettis joined Gee in DC, Massimo first worked as a restaurant manager at Cafe Milano, then as a general manager at Assaggi Osteria in McLean. Carolyn was the general manager at the George Town Club. She will remain the director of food and beverage at another prominent DC club while helping at the new restaurant.
The three of them spoke to Forest Hills Connection about I’m Eddie Cano and their local connection. (The interviews have been edited for clarity.)
FHC: You have said the name of the restaurant is a play on “Americano.” Can you describe the origins?
Carolyn Papetti: When I was studying Italian before I moved to Italy in 1997, I would listen to these tapes and a man would come on and say “Hi I’m ‘Eddie Cano.” I lived in Italy almost 8 years and just thought it was really funny. My husband [Massimo] is now referred by all of his friends as “Eddie Cano” because he has kind of converted and has lived in the United States for 12 years. James Gee is Italian American.
FHC: There’s a Kickstarter fund for this restaurant. Could you explain why you started it?
Carolyn Papetti: My background is marketing. We thought it would be beneficial to have a little extra money in case something happens like a flood and it would be nice to have a bit of a cushion. But really the goal, we want this to be a neighborhood community restaurant and we want a way to involve people and the community so they can get a little bit of buy-in. We are not just asking for the sake of money. We are giving people an exchange and hopefully they see value in that and what we are trying to do. So far most of the people on the campaign appear to be from the neighborhood and Murch!
FHC: What is it like to open this restaurant? It’s not a “downtown location” like some of your previous positions. What are some obstacles and expectations?
James Gee: I have opened several restaurants already. This is the first one with a partnership and I can say that there has been lots of anticipation to open and waiting to get started.
Massimo Papetti: We love the neighborhood. It’s beautiful. There are such nice people and a great school. We want to be a neighborhood restaurant where everybody can go with their family, their kids and enjoy each other’s company – to be part of the neighborhood as much as possible. We like to be part of the community. I grew up in Rome, the big city in Italy. As a little kid my father taught me to be part of the community. He would say, “You need to be part of the community if you want to be successful.” I grew up with this idea and I want the kids to have the same opportunity that I have now.
James Gee: We are still in DC, which has small town feel in the sense that there are small communities that give it a small town feel. We will be a neighborhood restaurant, not in the middle of downtown in all of the hustle and bustle. But I think location-wise, we are in a great spot being on Connecticut Avenue and so close to all of these neighborhoods.
I don’t feel we are so different from downtown or Virginia. It still feels likes one restaurant community. We want to be a neighborhood Italian restaurant and hope to be the place that people think about for all occasions from Monday nights through weekends. The hospitality that we are going to offer is what is really going to bring people to us in addition to the food and wine that we offer. Massimo is quite popular. With every restaurant he works he becomes first-name basis with so many people.
FHC: Has the menu been finalized or still being tweaked?
James Gee: The menu is fairly complete. There are several things I want to accomplish with the menu. One is to revisit those old Italian-American cuisines that many Americans grew up with, like chicken parmigiana. The items you think are really great Italian food, which it is, but you go to Italy and what you find is a different story with the food that is available there. That is second part we wanted to showcase: the authentic regional dishes that you see when you visit Italy. These are tried and true recipes they will always be staples on the menu. The third part is to have some fun with some of the dishes we do, adding fresh seasonal vegetables to get inspired.
Massimo Papetti: There will be cocktails on tap, wine on tap and a wine tasting menu. All of the wine will be Italy from the boot – the lower region of Italy. It’s going to be affordable wine.
FHC: How did the idea for the restaurant start?
James Gee: We started over 12 years ago. We all lived and worked in East Hampton, New York and we always talked about opening our own restaurant. As the years go by, we go separate ways. I ended up taking a job with the Jose Andres group, which I loved. I worked with some of the best chefs. Later on, we ended up meeting again here in DC and started looking for a restaurant. For many years we’ve been trying to find a location, with the right spot and right feel. When we finally landed on this, it felt right and knew it was time to take the leap. We as friends always wanted to open a restaurant. We’ve been wanting to do this for over a decade but finding the right spot and right vibe – this is it.
Massimo Papetti: I was looking with my wife for the best schools in United States for kids. Carolyn went to university in DC and always told me DC had good schools. We went for the kids. We found a school here and it was fantastic. And then on top of that, we knew that James was here so we could to dream together. That’s what we did. We didn’t plan, we moved within 6 months of deciding to go. In DC I started to work in Georgetown at Cafe Milano in front of house and then as a general manager in Virginia.
I always passed this spot [5014 Connecticut Ave] because I live here. The spot was calling me. When I arrived, I opened the doors, and knew this was our restaurant.
In June 2018, the owners of Cittanuova in East Hampton, where the Papettis and Gee first met and planned to one day open their own restaurant, were killed in a plane crash. So when I asked if they had anything else they’d like to say:
James Gee: We wanted to say thank you to the owners of the restaurant where we first – all three – worked together. It reminded us that the seeds of the restaurant kind of began there. We are honoring the Krupinski’s – they are a large part of where we all came from.