At times the story behind a restaurant can be as delicious as what’s on their menu. For instance, consider the improbable tale of how Wilton’s Bistro 7 came to be….
Breno Donatti began his restaurant career seven years ago as a dishwasher at Pizza Post in Greenwich. A young kid from Brazil, he had just come to America, spoke no English, and was without home, money, or many friends. Today, he is the popular co-owner and host of Bistro 7, a trendy restaurant in Wilton; his English is impeccable; and he lives in a lovely apartment in Stamford which he shares with his even lovelier wife, one of America’s most esteemed coloratura sopranos. (Her bio is just as amazing, but we’ll get to that shortly.)
After graduating high school, Breno had enrolled at a Nutrition College in South Brazil.. “Although my family was in the car business. I always had this passion for food,” he explains. “At school, I loved dealing with farmers and the business side of the industry. ”
But opportunities were limited, and Breno, entrepreneurial and impatient, didn’t envision a career slowly climbing a bureaucratic ladder. He had bigger dreams. So when a family friend, Luca Criscuolo, invited him to spend the summer at his home in a place called “Connecticut,” the ambitious young man accepted immediately. After picking Breno up at JFK, Luca stopped at his pizza place. They were shorthanded and needed help.
“Suddenly I find myself in the kitchen washing dishes,” Breno remembers. “There were all these dirty plates, and I was wet and sweating and I was so happy! I was smiling and loving it. “ Just an hour in America, and Breno already had a job … and a big, if somewhat quixotic dream. One day he wanted to own such a restaurant.
By dent of more sweat and lots of smarts, the ambitious youngster worked his way from the back of the house to the front, impressing and charming patrons, fellow workers and his bosses. When not working, he took classes at Norwalk Community and then UConn, to study business and sharpen his English. For what little sleep he needed, Breno always depended on the kindness of strangers, sleeping on couches and mattresses, even squatting one winter in a friend’s foreclosed home.
Breno saved every penny, preferring empty coffee cans to a bank. One container held money for the dream to own a restaurant, so most of his savings went there. Eventually Breno also had to save for the clothes he needed as he advanced into management. Soon he caught the eye of Matt Criscuolo, Luca’s nephew, and head of the Jazzeria Restaurant Group, comprised of three signature restaurants, each a fusion of pizza and jazz.
“I hired Breno to do some troubleshooting,” Matt recalls. “And I was impressed with his analytic abilities and common sense.” Soon Breno was looking after all three of the pizzerias, introducing nutritious alternatives to the menu, and begging Matt to partner with him in a new restaurant.
“He wasn’t ready. But more importantly I wasn’t ready to take on a partner,” Matt confesses. Besides, Breno needed a concept. Like Jazzeria, a unique signature.
That’s where Paris comes into the story. And two years before that -- Jeannette.
“I was working at the counter of the Sundance Café in Stamford,” Breno relates. “And I took an order from this great looking woman who was very concerned about the combinations I was putting together.”
Jeanette Vecchione returned the next day, and quickly she and Breno became the combination. As for her story … It’s even more unlikely than his.
At Longwood High in Long Island, this world-class beauty shattered records in shot put and basketball. (She nailed over 150 three pointers during her remarkable basketball career.) The top Division One schools courted her, offering full- boat rides. But one day after practice, Jeannette was clowning around with friends, and sang a note that caught the attention of the choir director. The teacher couldn’t believe what she had just heard: a voice so pure and vibrant that only the best opera voices could match it. She tried to convince Jeannette and her family that her real future would lead to the Met -- not the Garden.
“I made up my mind that the only way I would not go to a basketball power like Tennessee,” Jeannette tells us, “was if I were good enough to be accepted by Julliard.”
The feisty point guard never attended Tennessee. After graduation from Julliard, Jeannette has become one of the most sought after coloratura sopranos in America, with a worldwide reputation.
This takes us to Paris in November 2011, where Breno has traveled to hear his new wife sing at the Teatre des Champs Elysees. Sampling some of the nearby bistros, he discovers Café Central, featuring American food, sourced locally, prepared with an upscale tweak. Entranced, he dines there 10 more times.
Breno had found his signature concept: an American bistro, featuring farm to fork comfort food, but always with a riff. And he knew just where to open it: in Wilton, a high income town which, according to his detailed research, was certainly not saturated with inventive, high end eateries.
Now he had to convince Criscuolo to partner with him. “He had done his homework and came up with a good concept,” Matt concedes. “ I liked the farm to table idea, and as it eventually turned out, there was an opening in a property I owned along Route 7 in Wilton, close to other upscale towns like Ridgefield, Georgetown and Weston. So I decided to go into business with Breno.”
By February they were building the new space, and “Bistro 7” opened on July 5, 2012. Brunch, lunch and dinner menus featured an array of American healthy comfort foods, all with a twist. Breno worked the front and back of the house, and when she was in town, Jeannette served as a vivacious co-host.
There was a learning curve. Breno soon discovered that sourcing from farmers can be erratic. They usually prefer to sell to families at retail rather than to restaurants at wholesale. Sometimes Bistro 7 had to settle with surplus
“Last winter I got a call from a farmer who offered me 20 pounds of extra squash at a good price,” he remembers, laughing. “So lots of dishes got a side of squash.”
He had to find farmers who could offer him dependable quantities at a price that made sense.
During the first months of startup, business was steady. But, admittedly, crowds did not flock
“I talk and listen to customers, and so does Jeannette.” Breno says. “ And they were saying that they wanted a more relaxed mood and menu. Somewhere to bring all the family. Not too formal. “
I ask if maybe he was trying too hard. “Maybe,” he admits.
So Bistro 7 has recently simplified its menu and style to be warmer, welcoming and family friendly. This spring they planted a large garden on a nearby plot for a fresh and reliable supply of herbs and vegetables. New sourcing has brought a more dependable provision of meats, produce and fish. Breno has also uncovered some unexpected local specialties -- like wild mushrooms, which he tasted first, to make sure they weren’t poisonous.
Chef Ian Doenberger has recently taken over the culinary reins, but both owners, as well as the rest of the staff, contribute to the creative process. “We’re a team.” Breno says. “We don’t believe in a dictatorship.”
On Mondays, Bistro 7 offers its extensive portfolio of wines at half price and on weekdays a late happy hour from 9:30 to 10:30 p.m. They also feature a family hour from 3:00 to 5:30 with 15% discounts for both dine-in and take-out.
“It’s been a real education, and lots of hard work,” Breno sighs. “I haven’t taken a day off in a year.”
And then his face lights up and he visibly glows, just like he did 7 years ago washing dishes, drenched with suds and sweat. Breno says. “I am still loving it,”
We recommend the Meatloaf, the Branzini, the Avocado Burger, the Cauliflower Steak, the Crème brûlée and when in season, Soft Shelled Crabs. Vegan, Gluten free and vegetarian options are available.
991 Danbury Rd.
203 587 1787
[Photography Courtesy of Hank O'Karma]