Annette and Fino Docimo: Living the food life
June 14, 2012
ASPEN – Annette and Fino Docimo are truly peas in a pod. They have worked side by side for most of the last 37 years, in chowder shops, cafes and bakeries, and when asked if they worked well together, Annette replied, “The only time we’re miserable is when we’re not working together.”
The only apparent separation between the two is that, while Fino fully acknowledges that making food is essential to his existence – “What it is is a way of life, the whole food thing,” he says – Annette allows herself moments when she believes she can escape from the food business. After the two operated the Fireside Tavern in Aspen’s Shadow Mountain neighborhood for two years in the early ’90s, Annette said she was done with restaurants.
“I told Fino I’d never go back into it,” said Annette, who actually did get out of the kitchen. But after six years in the gallery business, Annette found herself cooking with Fino again, this time in the Popcorn Wagon, serving up the traditional Wagon menu of hot dogs and crepes. “After that I said, ‘That’s it, no more restaurants. Not doing that anymore.'”
While she said this, of course, Annette was busily packaging cookies, consulting with her beverage vendor, and taking a massive order for dinner rolls, pastries and baguettes. This past winter, the Docimos opened their latest eatery, Annette’s Mountain Bake Shop, a small, bustling spot in the middle of the Hyman Avenue mall that had previously been occupied by a real estate office. And in between bakery chores, the couple tried to piece together the details of a career and marriage that has centered, inevitably it seems, around food.
But to warm me up for the story, Fino handed me a piece of spicy sausage. “I’ve been making that since I was 10 years old,” he said.
Fino, a native of Italy’s Calabria region, was raised in a food-centric culture in Greenwich, Conn. His father wouldn’t drink wine that wasn’t made at home; his mother refused to buy bread. Food was contagious. As common as playing baseball and listening to rock ‘n’ roll as a kid was catching his own seafood. “In that area, on the Long Island Sound, there was so much fresh fish. We were always going fishing, clamming, getting oysters,” he said. Instead of fish, Annette had milk and pierogies; she grew up on a dairy farm in Deerfield, Mass. worked by her Polish family.
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In 1975, at the Landmark Club in Stanford, Conn., the maître d’ fell for the cocktail waitress. The Docimos’ honeymoon in Curacao was interrupted by a piece of business: their bid to rent a space in Greenwich had gone through, and they returned from the Caribbean to open the Louis Street Chowder House. Two years later they moved to Nantucket, where they opened the Easy Street Restaurant and Seafood House, where it wasn’t uncommon to serve a thousand meals in a day. They moved back to Connecticut to open the Georgetown Chowderhouse, where they installed gardens for vegetables and herbs and a bocce court.
Around 1990, the family, now with two young girls, went to Italy. Annette taught English and Fino worked in a kitchen for just one week, but their leisure activities included baking, and making grappa in Valle d’Aosta, the center of the grappa industry. “You’d see grappa bottles everywhere,” Fino said.
When the year in Italy was up, the Docimo daughters wanted more cultural adventure, this time with mountains thrown in. “We couldn’t go north – too cold,” Annette said. “We couldn’t go south – no skiing. We couldn’t go east; we’d just come from Italy.” So they headed west and after considering Squaw Valley, they settled on Aspen. The took over Pepi’s Hideout, where Fino instituted a Mediterranean menu and a memorable design. “It was the most romantic room in Aspen,” he said.
At the Italian restaurant Abetone’s, Fino cooked while Annette waited tables. At the Popcorn Wagon, Fino added his old favorites, lobster rolls and chowder, while Annette did double duty by working next door, at the Colony, an upscale Indian eatery. Fino moved on the saute station at Butch’s Lobster Bar in Snowmass Village, and after Annette’s food hiatus ended, they started a wholesale bread company, Pane Fresco, which supplied City Market, Pacifica, D19 and other local restaurants. They got back into restaurants with Spencer’s, in Snowmass Village, where Fino had the good fortune to hire several enthusiastic cooks from Mexico and Central America, and he added Mexican dishes to his repertoire.
When the poor economy squeezed Spencer’s out of business, the Docimos decided to pursue Annette’s dream, one that included food but was not quite a restaurant. She wanted a bakery. “I’ve never been a food person. I’m a dessert person,” she said.
With the Bake Shop, it’s not quite clear that Annette has gotten out of the restaurant business. In addition to cannolis, pies, cakes, bagels and a huge assortment of cookies, the Docimos serve soups, empanadas and sandwiches, including the “secret sandwich” that Fino first concocted at the Popcorn Wagon. “People are always coming up to us and whispering, ‘Are you ever going to bring the secret sandwich back to town?'” Fino said.
Fino said there are no further goals, no dream restaurant he wants to open. “We’ve opened everything we’ve wanted to open so far,” he said. “And I fall in love with everything I do. It’s all food.”
His wife wanted further assurances. “This is it, right?” Annette said, referring to the bakery being the last food business they would open.
“Yeah. She said that in 1980, too,” Fino responded.