The Untold Truth Of Buca Di Beppo

There are plenty of restaurant chains in America to choose from if you want to eat something that you know will be of somewhat decent quality. There are Mexican food chains, American chains, pizza chains, burger chains, and yes, Italian chains. From Olive Garden to Macaroni Grill, the Italian options across the United States are endless. But one Italian chain stands out from the crowd, and that's Buca Di Beppo.

But if you've ever had the pleasure of dining at a Buca Di Beppo, then you know it's not your typical Italian joint. And that's the point, after all. The chain restaurant doesn't feel like a chain when you're seated at your table, and especially after the food comes out, either. Seriously, the untold truth of Buca Di Beppo is that it's kind of an enigma, and if you've never been to one, now is the time to give it a try.

This is what inspired the creation of Buca Di Beppo

If you've ever been to a Buca Di Beppo, then you probably understand just how charming the restaurant can be. Between the food and the decorations, it's definitely a memorable time that's for sure. And as it turns out, the chain was actually started because one man wanted to bring the essence of an old-school Italian joint back home with him.

According to Bon Appetit, founder of Buca Di Beppo, Phil Roberts became infatuated with the red-sauce joints of the Northeast. Being from Minneapolis, he had never seen anything like them. "The way they displayed wealth was in the food they served," he said. "They kept the Christmas lights on all year-round. They hung up velvet paintings of Mount Vesuvius." So, Roberts wanted to bring a red-sauce joint to the midwest, and that's what really inspired the idea of Buca Di Beppo — a classic red-sauce joint that could thrive just about anywhere.

Buca Di Beppo's founder wanted accessible Italian food

Even though the founder of Buca Di Beppo, Phil Roberts, was inspired by the red-sauce joints of the Northeast, there was one thing that he wanted his own restaurant to be above all else: accessible. Though his hometown of Minneapolis obviously had some Italian restaurants, he wanted to open one that no one would feel intimidated by.

In an interview with Twin Cities Business, Roberts explained that he was sick of Italian restaurants all being so fancy. "When we started Buca, all the Italian restaurants were sleek and slick, with marble and beveled glass and granite and all that, so I said, 'You know? I want a sleeves-up restaurant where the guest feels superior to the restaurant, rather than being looked down on.'" So, Buca Di Beppo was born. And honestly, the down-to-earth restaurant was exactly what Roberts wanted it to be, partly because of the atmosphere he had created, and partly because of where his first location was.

Where Buca Di Beppo's name came from

If you thought Buca Di Beppo was a weird restaurant name, then hold on to your hats because you're going to be shocked at the fact that it loosely translates to "my buddy's basement." And that's exactly where the first-ever Buca Di Beppo opened up. Specifically, the first-ever location of the eventual chain restaurant opened in 1993 in the basement of an apartment building in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Clearly, founder Phil Roberts wanted the name to be clever, while still sounding super Italian.

And he definitely achieved that. Obviously, all the Buca Di Beppo restaurant locations these days are in actual buildings, not basements, but it's a pretty cool concept that you can't go to one without paying a little homage to the original. After all, plenty of things have changed since then, but the name, the style, and the pure intention of Buca Di Beppo has not, and that's what makes it so special.

It's family-style Italian dining

Unlike most other Italian restaurants, the food at Buca Di Beppo is almost exclusively served family-style, which means they're meant to be shared by the table. This obviously means that eating at Buca Di Beppo probably isn't ideal for a date night where each person wants their own dish, but it's just part of the Buca charm.

Reviews online of Buca Di Beppo are sure to mention that the family-style service isn't for everyone, and can make your meal a lot more expensive than you were planning on if you aren't careful. "We were not aware that we could not each order what we wanted. Be sure you know this in advance. Meals have to be shared," one person warned. Obviously, being a family-style restaurant means that Buca Di Beppo might not be for everyone for every occasion, but if you know that you and a few other friends or family members will all want the same thing, then it might just be worth it.

The restaurant is seemingly religious

If you've ever eaten at a Buca Di Beppo then you know that a lot of the decor in the restaurant is centered on religion, particularly Catholicism. And back in 2012, Trib Live reported that every single new location of Buca Di Beppo was blessed by a Catholic priest upon opening. As if that wasn't enough, each Buce Di Beppo location also has a Pope Room or Pope Table meant for larger parties. Clearly, the Italian chain loves to incorporate religion into just about everything it does.

But Buca Di Beppo's flirtation with religion has actually caused some controversy over the years. Specifically, according to the Orlando Business Journal, a Catholic bishop actually spoke harshly of the restaurant's artwork and dealings with Catholicism, while others called Buca Di Beppo almost blasphemous in its portrayal of religion. Clearly, the restaurant isn't afraid to be bold or controversial, and that might just be what makes them so fun to eat at.

It was part of a big buyout in 2008

While Buca Di Beppo first got started way back in 1993 by Phil Roberts in a small basement, it's now a huge and successful business. And part of that is because it was actually part of a huge buyout in 2008, which officially made the chain restaurant part of the Planet Hollywood group. According to Reuters, Planet Hollywood bought Buca Inc. for a whopping $9.7 million, minus any debt. Obviously, that's a large amount of money and a huge deal for Buca, and as the chain has continued to grow and expand after the buyout, it's clear that it was also a smart business decision on their part.

While it seems that the purchase of Buca by Planet Hollywood means that the original founder, Phil Roberts, would no longer be involved with the restaurant, that hasn't slowed down the chain. More locations have opened, and Roberts himself has gone on to start and run several more successful restaurant businesses. Clearly, this was a good deal for everyone involved.

The restaurant was an instant success

Obviously, you know that Buce Di Beppo would eventually become a super successful Italian chain restaurant with dozens of locations across the United States, and would even be part of a multi-million dollar buyout. But back when Phil Roberts first started the joint in a basement, he had no idea just how big it would become. As it turns out, it was kind of an instant success in Minneapolis, where people were willing to wait hours just for a table at the kitchshy joint.

According to Bon Appetit, the original Buca Di Beppo location was pretty full on any given night. "On a Saturday night in February we might have 100 people standing outside in 10-degrees-above-zero weather waiting to get in," Roberts explained. So, he gave it a couple of years before expanding the restaurant, and once he did, it really took off. Specifically, just three years after the original location opened, by 1996, there were 12 Buca Di Beppo locations, bringing in up to 5 million dollars per year. Yeah, it's safe to say the restaurant was immediately a hit.

This might be their most famous dish

Obviously, since Buca Di Beppo is an Italian joint, they know how to make a good meatball. Whether it's in a sandwich, on a bowl of spaghetti, or just served by itself with some sauce, there's nothing quite like a tasty meatball, and at Buca Di Beppo, it might just be what the chain is most famous for.

In fact, in a cooking segment with Marie Osmond, a Buca Di Beppo chef explained that the chain restaurant's signature dish might just be their meatball. As the chef explained, the meatball at Buca Di Beppo is super special, always homemade, and uses a secret recipe. If you've ever eaten at a Buca Di Beppo then you know just how delicious their meatballs are, and while you might not want to make a giant version for yourself at home, the recipe is surprisingly simple and definitely a way you can bring the taste of Buca into your own home.

Yes, Buca Di Beppo's interior is ugly on purpose

Aside from the food, the thing that probably makes Buca Di Beppo stand out amongst it's competitors is the decor inside the restaurant. Unlike many other chains out there, Buca doesn't try to look super fancy or even classy. Instead, the decor is pretty ugly, gaudy, and tacky. But it's that way on purpose.

In an interview with Twin Cities Business, founder of Buca Di Beppo, Phil Roberts recalled a time when he overheard a customer talking about the decor in the restaurant, referencing "some god-awful piece of Roman revival statuary." But that wasn't all the customer said, Roberts remembered that she also told her husband, "I would never have a piece like that in my house!" And for Roberts, that was exactly the point. "And I thought, 'Yes! Yes! Yes! We did it!'" he told the publication. Clearly, part of the joy that comes with eating at Buca Di Beppo is in admiring the tacky decor. Hey, at least it makes your time there memorable.

It doesn't try to be authentic

If you've ever been to Italy, then you know that the food at places like Olive Garden isn't exactly authentic Italian food. Then again, most Italian restaurants in America aren't very authentic, but because Buca Di Beppo was inspired by old-school red-sauce joints, you might expect it to be a little more real Italian. However, that assumption would be wrong.

According to Tim Alevizos, a consultant who worked on Buca's branding, people didn't really care if the food was authentic. "As the original red sauce joints were dying off, Buca was the introduction to that type of Italian," he told Bon Appetit. "I don't know if they were keyed into whether Buca was authentic or not, but they didn't have a lot to compare it to. Plus, it was fun and the food was tasty." Buca Di Beppo might not be exactly like dining out in Italy, but it's still tasty food, and definitely one-of-a-kind.

The restaurant chain fell upon hard times

Even though Buca Di Beppo came from humble beginnings, there's no denying that the chain restaurant soon turned into a hugely successful and profitable business. However, all of that almost came to a swift end in the mid-2000s following some financial drama.

As Bon Appetit reported, it was in 2006 when CEO Joseph Micatrotto as well as two more executives for Buca all got sentenced to jail for allegedly inflating the income for Buca Di Beppo and taking money. That money wasn't put back into the restaurant but instead, the money was used on the renovation of an Italian villa. After that, Nasdaq even delisted the restaurant and it almost went out of business entirely. It wasn't until Planet Hollywood swooped in to save it in 2008 that Buca Di Beppo was off the chopping block. Clearly, even the most successful businesses in the restaurant industry can't avoid scandal and financial distress.

Celebrities love Bucca Di Beppo

If there's one thing that Buca Di Beppo has bragging rights on, it's that celebrities of all kinds have flocked to the chain restaurant since it first opened. If you don't believe it, just type "celebrities at Bucca Di Beppo" into Google and watch as some of your favorite celebs dig into some delicious Italian food at the chain. As if that wasn't interesting enough, one celebrity was so fond of the restaurant they actually partnered with them and redecorated one of their party rooms. "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star Dorit Kemsley actually designed the restaurant's Capri Room in Encino, California.

And the restaurant and room were even featured on an episode of the hit Bravo show. "My son's godfather, Robert Earl, who's a very dear friend of ours, owns the chain," Kemsley explained on an episode, via Us Weekly. "When I moved, he's like, 'Well you know Buca's around the corner from you?' And I said, 'Oh my gosh, I might need to put my stamp on it.' And he was just like, 'Sure,'." Clearly, the restaurant is for just about everyone, from celebrities to your average Joe — everyone can enjoy a good time at Buca Di Beppo.