Recipe for Romance
A Mount Kisco Love Story
Partners in life and business, Frannie and Isi Albanese have found the sweet spot of success.
Photo by Peter T. Michaelis
It’s a good sign when you sit down to interview a couple about their long-term marriage that they still refer to each other as “honey” and finish each other’s sentences so frequently that their answers to my questions blended seamlessly together. Isidoro (Isi to his friends) and Frannie Albanese met and raised their children in Mount Kisco, while helping define the foodie scene in town and beyond.
In 1968 when Isi was ten, his family moved from Solana, Italy, to Mount Kisco where a number of relatives were already living. While visiting one of them, Isi was instantly captivated by a beautiful little curly-haired blonde girl playing in the yard next door (her family just so happened to have roots in that same town in Italy).
Fast forward a decade: Isi is out of college; Frannie is in high school. They ran into each other at a baseball game in Leonard Park where her brother and his cousin were playing. “I fell in love with her on the spot,” Isi says, perhaps remembering that moment all those years ago. But Frannie was more practical. “Italian families are very strict about dating,” she says. “I would always say I was never going to get a boyfriend—and I certainly wouldn’t marry an Italian! Any man who wanted to go out with me would have to get permission from my father first. What guy would do that?”
Isi, of course. He called Frannie’s father, met with him, and passed muster. The couple had their first unchaperoned date at Playland Park on the 4th of July. But their first “real date,” Isi stresses, was at the old Village Inn in Bedford, where he was pals with the maître d’. “Isi thought I was older than 16 at the time and ordered me a Golden Cadillac. He introduced me to food I’d never had before. It was the first time I tasted shrimp! He and his friend totally spoiled me.”
Five years later they were married at the Glen Island Harbor Club in New Rochelle with 550 guests in attendance. “My father told us we could invite anyone we wanted, but since he was paying, he was inviting everyone he wanted,” Frannie says. Isi figured if they spent five minutes chatting at each table, it would take about four hours to talk to everyone! Instead, they opted to have fun at their own wedding.
After a two-week honeymoon in Maui, the newlyweds returned to Mount Kisco, where they made their mark pleasing the palates of their devoted clientele. Bellizzi was a beloved fixture on Main Street for years, a place for parents to enjoy a slice of pizza while their kids played in the adjoining arcade. “Bellizzi was a great family place,” Isi says. “We must have done 10,000 birthday parties there. But as those kids grew up—the echo boomers—they didn’t want to go to a kiddy place. The Millennials want a different type of dining experience. You have to constantly reinvent yourself.”
So last February, Bellizzi was transformed into Exit 4, the first food court in Westchester with nine food stations including the familiar wood-fired pizzas, the Rawsome seafood bar, barbecue, and pasta. They also opened Frannie’s Goodie Shop, just across the street, in 2011, adding a second location in the Plaza Hotel a year later, followed by their largest location, with a café, at Ridge Hill in Yonkers.
Working together and staying married can be an iffy proposition, but these two seem to have hit upon the perfect recipe, although Isi believes fate had a lot to do with it. “Meeting Frannie was my destiny,” he says. “One moment can change every part of your life.”
Indeed. Shortly after they married, the couple were out in Montauk and, on a lark, went to see a psychic. “She told us we would have three kids with blonde curly hair,” Isi says. The couple has three sons. “She also said Frannie would become more beautiful each year—and that is true,” Isi says. Completing his thought, Frannie continues: “And she told me the older I got, the more in love I would be—and that’s true, too.”