Daniela Marcone’s Dream Job

By Shelley Seale

Why Andiamo may just be Austin’s best-kept secret for family-style Italian dining.

Daniela Marcone initially got a job at Andiamo Restaurant simply by virtue of being Italian. It was 2004, and the Naples native had moved to Austin from Italy with her then boyfriend, who took her to lunch at Andiamo one day. Marcone struck up a conversation with the restaurant’s owner.

“He didn’t know anyone actually from Italy,” Marcone recalls, “and so he offered me a job as hostess. I fell into the restaurant business by chance. I was here at the right time and the right moment.”

She worked her way up to manager, and then in 2010, potential disaster struck. Andiamo was in danger of closing its doors. Marcone didn’t want to see that happen, so she bought the restaurant herself.

“I wanted to save everybody’s job,” she says.

While she may be an accidental restaurant owner, food and cooking are two things that Marcone knows a lot about. Growing up in Naples, she went to the markets and cooked with her mother. Gnocchi, for example, is something her mother used to make every Sunday.

“The whole family would come over for it,” she says. “The dish always reminds me of those times, and it will always be on my menu.”

She continues to visit local markets and source ingredients in Austin.

“I love to support local farms. Every time I sell a bottle of wine or a piece of meat, I know exactly where it comes from,” Marcone says. “I eat here every day, and it’s important to me to know where the food is coming from.”

Marcone’s Andiamo serves up authentic Italian bistro dishes inspired by her own family recipes, and everything from the bread to desserts is made in-house. The entire experience, from the décor and service, to every bite of food, is presented as it would be in Italy. Wine is also a big part of dining at Andiamo, with certified sommelier Pier Giorgio Manna on board and special monthly wine dinners the last Tuesday of every month.

“I don’t like to have any compromise food-wise,” Marcone says.

The food and service are the aspects of the business that come most easily to her.

“It’s easy to make people happy when you’re a people person. It was much harder to learn the business part of running a restaurant. It’s a challenge, especially for somebody who didn’t know anything about the restaurant business. But I love the challenge. It keeps me alive.”

That is easy to see; during a meal at the restaurant, it’s obvious there are many regulars. Marcone is greeted repeatedly by diners, and she, in turn, addresses most customers by name. Lady Bird Johnson was a regular, and daughter Luci Baines Johnson still frequents the restaurant. Her favorite dish, a shrimp linguine, is even named in her honor. The staff is also clearly part of one big, tight-knit Italian family. Chef Victor Ibarra started as a busboy and worked his way up.

“We’re lucky to have him,” Marcone says. “It’s wonderful to work with someone like him who really cares about the quality of the food.”

Above all, Marcone values her relationships with her staff and customers.

“When they come to Andiamo,” she says, “they come to a family.”

Spirit Reins

Daniela Marcone went to medical school in Italy, and originally came to Texas thinking she would work with horses and disabled children. That passion has fueled a high level of community involvement with a local nonprofit organization called Spirit Reins, a trauma specialty center that provides equine therapy for children and families impacted by abuse or other trauma.

Combining the services of licensed mental-health professionals, equine specialists and, of course, the horses themselves, Spirit Reins helps children learn to recognize what is going on inside of them and how they have the ability to move from a place of fear to a place of being calm. Marcone works with the group on a regular basis, and supports its work through Andiamo. The restaurant has a special private dining room that is filled with photographs of the horses and children from Spirit Reins.

“I dedicated this room to them,” Marcone says. “Every time people come here to have a private party, I donate 50 percent of the proceeds [to Spirit Reins]. These kids are the future, and I love this organization.”