A star is born in Raleigh's downtown theater district, spotlighting classic Tuscan fare and bustling with cultural flair.
"I started in the restaurant business when I was about 12," says Kennedy, who grew up in Raleigh. His first job was selling hot dogs for 50 cents an hour, "plus all the Pepsi I could drink.."
Kennedy's personable nature and flair for learning languages- he speaks Italian, as well as some Greek and Spanish- helped gained him an inside track among Italian restaurant owners in the Big Apple. One of those Italian restaurants owners became his father-in-law when Parker Kennedy married Nicole White in October 1994.
"I always wanted to come back down here," Kennedy explains. In New York, he subscribed to the Raleigh News & Observer, and he returned to the triangle the visit family and look for a restaurant twice a year on average.
Kennedy had to convince his new bride that Raleigh was where the dream of owning a restaurant could come true. Having grown up in the business herself, Nicole White Kennedy agreed to relocate south, and she held her breathe. "We took a big risk," she says.
The Kennedy's launched their restaurant on the shoestring budget, collecting funds from the Small Business Administration, loans from friends and family, and a couple of credit cards. Nicole had a budget of $1,600 to redecorate. She took the hands-on approach of her husband to heart; in fact, Nicole's art training from the Parson's School of Design at New York City's New School University bubbled to the surface when she saw all those blank walls. Nicole created landscapes, still lifes, and scenes from daily life in Italy to display in the restaurant. (click here for art: nicolestudio.com)
While her husband gets ideas for Caffe Luna on their travels to Italy, she acquires ideas for her art. "I sketch and take photos, and we eat, eat, eat in every restaurant imaginable," she says.
Although Caffe Luna offers an exemplary selection of wine, there is no bar, and the restaurant does not serve liquor. The focus is on having a good meal, good conversation, and then moving on to the rest of your evening. "It's more like an Italian restaurant in Italy," he explains.
Kennedy's Southern hospitality shines at Caffe Luna, and he has no plans to expand his company to a second location. That would prevent him from being at the restaurant in person. "You have to be here for this kind of thing. You have a farm, you don't get another farm.
"We never thought we'd do this good," he says.