Ciro's - It's a family affair
Just ask him and he'll launch into a history lesson about his large Italian family comprised of his wife and three children, his parents, both of whom work at the restaurant, numerous aunts, uncles and cousins, including "cuz" Frankie Mandola, a long-time Houston restaurateur.
"We are a family-run and operated restaurant," said Lampasas. "A family member is almost always here. You can find my dad on the bocce ball court or chatting with a customer. When my mom started doing the books, we really started making money! She works here five days a week."
Lampasas first opened Ciro's in 1986. After the expansion of the Katy Freeway forced him to relocate, he opened a new restaurant across the highway from the original location. The new address is 9755 Katy Freeway, between Gessner and Bunker Hill.
Since the grand opening last August, Ciro's has more than doubled its business. Sandwiched between Denis' Seafood and Guadalajara Mexican Grille, Ciro's has become a popular place to eat, enjoy a cocktail or play a game of bocce ball, offered on two courts.
"The synergy is better here," said Lampasas. "It's about location, location, location."
During his early 20s, Lampasas worked with Mandola at Damian's, learning the restaurant business from the ground up. With dreams of one day opening his own restaurant, Lampasas found a fixer-upper in a strip mall on Campbell Road. After months of hard work, he managed to turn the once-dingy space into a dining destination. But he was still $100,000 away from his dream. That's when his family stepped in.
Several uncles and other family members bought five percent of the restaurant, giving Lampasas the much-needed capital to open Ciro's.
"In the old days, families would always pitch in together to help each other open grocery stores, delis and restaurants," Lampasas stated. "It was in-house, in-family financing that made things happen."
Just weeks before his 25th birthday, Lampasas proudly opened Ciro's.
Lampasas and his wife Kimberly designed the interior of Ciro's to reflect their own sense of style. Warm amber colors on the walls are appealing and accentuate the Italian villa ambiance.
To make their loyal customers feel at home, several large, painted murals were cut from the sheetrock at the old restaurant and moved to the new location. In addition, some of the original wall sconces were rewired and relocated. Tables are topped with sturdy granite in colors that complement the interior.
"The murals are works of art. I wanted to take them with me. We moved nine pieces. We tried to bring some of the charm from the old store to the new location," said Lampasas.
The Italian eatery has become a neighborhood favorite with many repeat customers.
"Comfort food. That's our business. That's our bread and butter. It's not unusual to have people come in four or five times a week."
Ciro's specializes in down-home, Italian-American food, the kind your grandmother used to cook.
In fact, many of the rich recipes have been handed down by Lampasas' own Sicilian grandmother.
"When we first opened, 75 percent of the dishes we made were hers. The spaghetti "MeMa" is her recipe. It's made with rotisserie chicken and American cheese in a suga sauce. When we were young, she'd make it in a casserole and bring it over wrapped in a towel on Sunday or Christmas Day. The eggplant rollatine is another dish she was known for."
Fettuccine "PePa," named for Lampasas' grandfather, is a scrumptious shrimp and spinach dish in white wine and butter sauce. Baby Laurel Ann, a dish named in honor of his daughter, consists of grilled shrimp and veal medallions with sun-dried tomatoes in a delightful Dijon mustard sauce.
Other enticing entrees include veal florentine and piccata, chicken parmigiana and pollo alla sposa, grilled chicken stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella in a mushroom-marsala wine sauce.
Do save room for Ciro's Mama "C" delectable dessert, a pecan-crusted pie with layers of cream cheese, chocolate, whipped cream and chopped nuts.
In keeping with the neighborhood concept, Ciro's recently hosted a pizza-making party for a group of 5- and 6-year-olds from Clay Road Baptist Church.
"This is something we love to do," Lampasas stated. "The kids really love it. They get to roll out the dough, add their choice of toppings; pepperoni, meatballs and cheese."
While their pizzas were cooking, the children made pasta shell necklaces out of spinach and tomato penne, radiatori and rotelle shells.
Pizzas are cooked in wood-burning ovens. Traditional or specialty pizzas such as the pesto de Gorgonzola, with grilled chicken and eggplant, are also on the menu.
"The kids have the best time, and that is what we are all about at Ciro's."
For more information about dining at Ciro's, call 713-467-9336.