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Owners Kevin and Amy Micelli, who met and married in California in 1994, previously ran an inn in Woodstock. But “it was a bit like ‘The Shining,’” said Kevin. After nine months of strangeness, they came to New York City and spent five years working odd jobs — restaurants, catering, selling flowers — until they realized, shortly after 9/11, that it was time to do something on their own.
Kevin had already trademarked his new business name well before it existed. Amy was pregnant and working as a teacher when “Ciao” found its first home on E. 12th St. between Avenues A and B. The place later moved across the street to its current home.
As they recalled, they “didn’t have a penny,” and in classic American style, they “put everything on credit cards.” The couple did most of the renovation in that space themselves, which they chose because they wanted to be in a neighborhood where, as Amy noted, they would “be around people who we like and want to spend time with.”
Kevin knows his regular customers by name. He’ll admit to being the manager in a business where job descriptions are constantly blurred and he ends up doing the baking, as well as a myriad of other jobs. But the recipes are entirely the domain of Amy, who has “an incredible palate,” according to Kevin.
The cafe, which is open for breakfast and lunch and does a sizable amount of catering, uses organic supplies whenever possible and always bakes the muffins and all the rest in small batches to maintain quality. Speaking of quality, in an effort to improve the city’s quality of life, deliveries are made in a “zero pollution” electric car and garbage is sent to a community garden for compost.
Although they have a modern approach to food and energy, they have an old-fashioned work ethic that they are sure to instill in their kids, while keeping it a fun place to be employed. Their three children, Django, 8, Opal, 6, and Atlas, 4, have their own little “clubhouse” in the basement and sometimes keep themselves amused by making cookies for their own consumption. Most of the regulars know their names, too.
The customers do tend to change, though, since, the owners said, the place is “constantly getting new students in the area.” After 10 years at the location, Amy noted that “the block has transformed many times…and there are fewer crazy people and drug addicts now.” But their establishment is a constant and will most likely remain, because for the Micelli family, “It feels like home.”