New owners keep the European character in Carbondale restaurant

Chamonix native took over Allegria Restaurant on July 1

When Benoit DeFrancisco worked at his family’s restaurant in Chamonix, France, throughout the 1990s, all he could think about was moving on to bigger places in bigger cities with a thriving social scene.

Twenty years later he has been there, done that and now returned to his roots. DeFrancisco and his wife, Emma, bought Allegria Restaurant from founder Andreas Fischbacher on June 30. They are also in the process of purchasing the charming brick building that the Italian restaurant is located in on Carbondale’s Main Street.

“The magic of Main Street in an old town like this one reminded me of Chamonix,” DeFrancisco said. “This has a soul and charm that you can’t hardly replicate.

“And it’s funny because you always want to go away from what you are familiar to or used to, like Chamonix and Main Street,” he continued. “My parents had a restaurant exactly like this on Main Street.”

DeFrancisco came to the United States in 1999 and worked in a variety of restaurant industry positions in New Jersey, Washington D.C., and over a couple of stints in Aspen. The family also lived in Perth, Australia, and considered acquiring a restaurant there before returning to the Roaring Fork Valley in 2017.

DeFrancisco managed Sam’s at Snowmass Ski Area for Aspen Skiing Co. last winter and at Casa Tua prior to that. He had previously worked at Cloud Nine and Elevation.

“Emma and I were always interested in looking for a business of our own,” he said.

They investigated buying a catering business last year. They asked their banker to recommend a team of advisers who could help them sort through the potential purchase of an established catering business. That brought them into contact last fall with Charles Spickert of Touchstone Business Advisors. He helped the couple explore the purchase of the catering business but also raised a new possibility.

“He took out a file, put it in front of me and said, ‘Hey, Allegria is for sale,'” DeFrancisco said.

They soon realized it was the right fit.

“When this opportunity came through, it just seemed perfect,” Emma said. They had eaten at Allegria a few times, liked the food and atmosphere, knew it had a good reputation in the community and loved the location, she said.

They worked on a deal through the winter and took possession of the restaurant July 1. They had no choice but to hit the ground running. July 2 was Carbondale’s popular First Friday and also a holiday weekend.

DeFrancisco said he was fortunate to inherit a “good crew” at the restaurant.

“They’re really part of the whole experience,” he said. “They have a sense of ownership in this little place that I haven’t seen in a long time. I’ve seen many employees (in other restaurants) clock in and clock out, whatever happens happens. But here they have pride and they really love the place. It’s a sense of belonging that I find really difficult to find in a lot of places.”

Benoit and Emma said they were undeterred from seeking an opportunity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Emma said they knew the restaurant industry in the Roaring Fork Valley had, by-and-large, fared well during summer 2020 thanks to outdoor dining. And they figured there was a light at the end of the tunnel for the pandemic to end.

Benoit said he has faced four periods of tough times during his time in the restaurant industry in America. There was the dot com crash of 2000, the 911 tragedy in 2001, the Great Recession of 2008-09 and now the pandemic. You learn to always be prepared even if you aren’t quite sure what to expect, he said.

“So taking a restaurant during COVID was not a challenge but an opportunity,” DeFrancisco said. “People will be looking for entertainment, and (hospitality) is entertainment. There will always be a place for hospitality.”

Fischbacher founded Allegria in May 2012 and built the small restaurant into a renowned place in short order. He became a chef in his home country of Austria, worked in New York City and moved to Aspen where he helped develop Aspen Skiing Co.’s Cloud Nine restaurant into a favorite.

He said it was important to him to find a buyer who was invested in the restaurant industry and had an accomplished resume. Finding a buyer with European roots was “a bonus,” Fischbacher said.

He plans to remain in the valley, but he will spend more time visiting family in Europe, which he said he left about 40 years ago.

Spickert said this transaction was particularly rewarding for him.

“This is what I love doing, preserving small businesses that add character” to the valley, he said.

DeFrancisco said he has big shoes to fill. Customers can expect consistency at the restaurant, he said. He labeled it Allegria 2.0.

“There are a few evolutions but not big changes,” he said. “That’s what I’m thinking. It’s important.”

He will add some seasonal dishes in the summer but regular customers will still get the “comfort food” they are accustomed to, he said.

Benoit and Emma live with their two children, Chloe and Louis, in the midvalley. They will play a very hand’s on role at the restaurant. Emma handles accounting and the website while holding down another job as a business manager.

Benoit will fill in where needed at the restaurant. Working front of the house and actually taking orders and serving helps him connect with his new customers.

“What I do now is I’m on the floor every night,” he said. “I was telling the staff, this is show business, every day is like a Broadway show, every day is let’s put on the right music, the right lights, the right consistency. It’s very important.”

The show continues at Allegria.