At the core of the word restaurant is the French verb restaurer, “to restore” or “to refresh.” A restaurant yields the healing power of food and hospitality to the gratification of its diners; together, the restaurant staff takes on the role of a family inviting others into their home to tell their very own story.
Obicà Mozzarella Bar shapes its “family story” around its commitment to food, people and the land. By fostering a perspective of social responsibility, the brand takes a broad approach towards service and hospitality, contributing to efforts of local and sustainable sourcing, alleviating poverty and hunger, and exemplifying the idea that a company can be a driver of change.
It’s remarkable when you consider how the Obicà story has grown beyond the borders of Italy. President Silvio Ursini opened the first location in Rome back in 2004, and has since played a major role in the global presence of Obicà, bringing the allure of Italian culture and cuisine to cities around the world. Obicà, a “casual Italian restaurant concept based on [the] best Mozzarellas di Bufala Campana,” whips up traditional Italian recipes with premium Italian handmade products. Inspired in part by traditional sushi bars, all preparation is done “in sight” for guests to see how and where their food is prepared. That Obicà translates in Italian to “Here it is” is fitting in the literal sense, but the name also speaks to the raw integrity of the brand that Ursini seeks to uphold in both the restaurants and the company’s social purpose: that food is at the heart of so much.
For Obicà, this commitment to food is more than just owning restaurants. All of the Italian locations of Obicà have made a five year commitment to the Fondazione Francesca Rava-NPH Italia Onlus, an organization that supports young children in serious need within Italy and around the world. They also help to sponsor educational and training programs through a variety of fundraising projects. Perhaps their most popular charitable initiative happens during the Christmas holiday, when every coffee served with a Chocolate Truffle Relanghe translates into 1 euro donated to the charity. The generous support of Obicà customers has enabled the group to help launch a new program in a vocational training center in Francisville, Haiti, in order to start a mobile bakery there that can produce up to 5,000 bread rolls every day.
Obicà’s adherence to the value of serving good, clean and fair food is most clearly demonstrated by their namesake product: the freshest Mozzarella di Bufala served with only a few simple ingredients sourced from the best farmers and producers – many of whom the Obicà family refers to as friends. Even thousands of miles away from the farms of Italy, the American chefs and CEO Raimondo Boggia are often seen at nearby farmers’ markets, sampling products and talking with farmers about their growing methods. As part of the Green Restaurant Association, every Obicà restaurant takes pride in their ingredients, be it an heirloom tomato just ripe enough to eat, the fresh Mozzarella dripping from its brine, or a deep red wine made from an indigenous Italian grape variety.
Obicà is not just any Italian eatery. It is Rome’s (and probably history’s) first Mozzarella Bar. The spaces are warm, bright and boast contemporary design that lets the food be the star. And with colorful, hand-made dishes that feature the wonder of the land and its bounty, the food shines. Meal preparation at Obicà defends the tenet of Italian culinary tradition that mealtime is an activity that extends far deeper than simply cooking or eating. Paying homage to this tradition is a practice that keeps Italians connected to their land, their ancestral past and most importantly, to one another. It’s clear that the possibility for food to foster such connections is something that President Ursini understands well.
The culture is something that you feel as soon as you step in the door at an Obicà restaurant. I had the privilege this past month of visiting the Obicà in Rome’s Campo dei Fiori as well as New York’s Flatiron location. I walked away from both dining experiences with a wholehearted understanding of why the Italians could realistically live off of Mozzarella, prosciutto and focaccina, plus the assured feeling that each Obicà meal represents the product of passionate individuals.
The brother team of Fabio and Fabrizio Argiolas activate the soul of Obicà Flatiron with their reunion story of leaving home in Sardinia only to end up back together an ocean away. Fabrizio, the mastermind behind the bar’s garden-to-glass cocktails, left home in Sardinia to travel the world, leaving his younger brother behind in Italy. It wasn’t too long after he settled in at Obicà Flatiron that his brother Fabio, now the welcoming presence at the front of the house, came to join him in New York. Their story, while of course charming, also underlines something essential to Obicà – that spirit of family and food and coming together around a common vision of what’s important. It highlights that hospitality is very much about character: you can teach someone how to cook or how to serve, but you cannot simply teach someone passion. At Obicà, they employ individuals who have captured this passion within their hearts and used it as a catalyst for projects larger than the restaurant branch itself.
So, returning to my original question in the case of Obicà: when did it become more than a restaurant? There are several moments that could point to this pinnacle in the restaurant group’s history: the global expansion into three different continents, the development of an almost-cult following, and, most of all, the introduction of a social impact mission and a commitment to sustainable farm-to-table dining. These factors, combined with Obicà’s warm, familial take on dining, establish its own recognizable, pronounced culture. It upholds the idea food is not only central to our lives for reasons of sustenance or pure enjoyment: it can also bridge cultures across the world to unite us in a common commitment. It is this passion at the global community’s beck and call that separates Obicà from its contemporaries.