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San Valentino Italian Market

In the heart of St. Petersburg, Florida, a cultural renaissance is in development, spearheaded by the visionary construction entrepreneur Julius Nasso. With a fervent passion for creating transformative experiences, Nasso’s mission to bring the heart of Italy to Florida is poised to revolutionize the local dining scene.


By GIOVANNA G. BONOMO

June, 2024




View of St. Petersburg, Florida

Imagining the warm glow of wood- burning pizza ovens and the buzz of animated conversations, a new chapter in the culinary narrative of St. Petersburg is about to unfold—a chapter defined by creativity, new experiences, and the simple joy of coming together to celebrate the art of food and community.


I sat down with Julius to get to the heart of the monumental project, to discover that it is precisely the heart of Italy that the New York born developer is hoping to capture and bring to his community in Florida.


Drawing upon Julius Nasso’s extensive background in the construction industry and a track record of success, and motivated by a desire to create a space that empowers individuals and uplifts communities, Nasso embarked on a bold endeavor—the creation of a hospitality group dedicated to redefining the dining experience and fostering a culture of inclusivity and opportunity. “The name is San Valentino Italian Market: Hospitality from the Heart of Italy. The reason for that is because we are bringing heart hospitality. Saint Valentine is all about the heart, all about love. So that’s where I got that inspiration from and most recently looking at the overarching brand of the concept for the restaurant, dining Hall outdoor piazza, I’ve chosen a name that my branding people are buying into: CUORE D’ITALIA (THE HEART OF ITALY),” Nasso explained as he unveiled his vision for the 20 million dollar initiative in development in St. Petersburg, Tampa, and Sarasota.



beautiful view of harbour in Florida
St. Petersburg, Florida


"For us, San Valentino Italian Market is not merely about offering a meal; it’s about sharing a piece of the artisans’ spirit who crafted it."

— JULIUS NASSO



AN ATMOSPHERE OF HERITAGE


Inspired by his own rich Italian-American heritage and the cherished memories of family gatherings steeped in Italian culture, he recalls the rich tapestry of old-world traditions interwoven with a deep sense of pride in their American heritage. From festive holiday celebrations that filled basements with the laughter of loved ones to post-feast musical interludes and midnight pasta gatherings, each memory serves as a testament to the joy and camaraderie that defined those special occasions.


Reflecting on the challenges of contemporary family dynamics, Julius emphasizes the importance of fostering a sense of community, where shared experiences and connections can flourish. As he aptly puts it, “People struggle with family relationships today so rather than saying we are trying to create family we are saying we want to create community.”



To recreate the essence of those timeless moments within the walls of his San Valentino Market, Nasso is starting from the table. “It’s about bringing an experience that people don’t even know exists. When I tell people that when I go to Italy and you sit down and you have a meal. People want you to be there. They are not rushing to turn a table to get you out. They want you to experience what they are presenting to you, the food, the culture, their personalities—and that’s very important for us to be able to translate and bring that to San Valentino Market.”


For Nasso, it is not merely about serving a meal but about curating an experience—an experience that transcends the boundaries of time and space to transport diners to a place where food, culture, and camaraderie converge. “We are such a culture of media and distraction, we don’t understand what it’s like to sit around a table for hours and have that open and honest communication and just enjoy that.”


By nurturing an environment where guests are encouraged to linger, connect, and savor the moment, Nasso seeks to create a gathering space where the fast pace of modern life gives way to the timeless pleasures of good food, good company, and genuine human connection where guests are not mere spectators but integral players in the culinary journey.


Julius Nasso with his wife Aurora, the visionaries behind San Valentino Italian Market


COOKING SCHOOL


With a deep appreciation for fine cuisine cultivated through his experiences in Manhattan and Italy, Nasso believes in the need for and power of only using the highest quality ingredients.


“When our restaurant opens its doors, our commitment to authenticity will be evident in every dish, sourced directly from Italy – from the flour in our dough to the pasta that defines our menu. For us, San Valentino Italian Market is not merely about offering a meal; it’s about sharing a piece of the artisans’ spirit who crafted it."


Admittedly not a restauranteur by profession, Nasso is assembling a team of culinary experts who bring a wealth of expertise and a flair for innovation to the forefront, ensuring that every aspect of the guest experience is infused with authenticity from the moment they arrive to the final goodbye.





Central to Nasso’s vision is the creation of a dynamic and interactive environment where guests are not just consumers of food but active participants in a culinary journey that celebrates diversity, creativity, and the art of storytelling through cuisine.


“Our cooking school area will be designed that we will have events going on constantly we will bring in chefs also from other regions also from the local area who cook Chinese, Mexican, Sushi and give them an opportunity to showcase. People don’t have that. They go to a restaurant but they don’t get to know the chef they don’t get to know what’s behind his motivation so making it a more personal experience is what we’re going for."



 

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BRIDGING ITALY WITH FLORIDA


Cross-cultural exchange is the keystone of the project. With collaborations set in place with the University of South Florida and the University of Florence, Italy, Nasso intends on affirming the market- place as a cultural bridge between Italy and Florida.


"We plan to engage students from both schools. We look to bring over chefs, baristas, and other artisans from Italy to nurture that intercultural ex- perience. We are currently in talks with a few select tour companies to provide immersive experiences throughout the regions of Italy, combining music, wine, food, and true Italian hospitality at every corner."


Suspecting that the desire for La Dolce Vita was at the heart of this beautiful challenge, I asked Nasso why undertake this bella sfida, why not retire after a successful 50-year career in real estate development and construction, Nasso's response confirmed my suspicion:


"La Dolce Vita is a journey of vocation that you truly enjoy and being surrounded family and friends that you love. This is why San Valentino Market is so important to me. I want to bring this concept of La Dolce Vita to our community for all to share and delight in.

I have been blessed with numerous opportunities in my life. I want to give back to our communities by also supporting Neighborly Meals on Wheels and working to improve the quality of life for our local homeless population. It is only through a project of this magnitude that this would be possible.

I would like to thank my wife, Aurora for her tireless sup- port, Nonna Julia, our food and beverage consultants at COJHO, and the interior design team at Celano, Cormia Architects, HKD equip- ment design, and Easy Living with Technology. This project is coming together with amazing relationships on both sides of the ocean."


The Team behind the project


ARCHITECTURE & DESIGN


Behind the success of a venture of this magnitude lies the work, vision, and commitment of a design team passionately dedicated to turning dreams into reality.


The driving force behind San Valentino Market is the esteemed New York-based firm, Celano Design Studio Co. Vincent Celano, the Founder and President shared his vision for the market. "We want everyone to feel like they're family and part of a community when visiting the market. This is part of the Italian lifestyle and culinary tradition that will drive a lot of the design decisions we make throughout the space." 


Their plan includes areas for gathering, socializing, and dining, with features such as bocce courts, a water fountain, and 'family-style' dining tables strategically placed to encourage group interaction.


Celano elaborated on their design concept, saying, "We wanted to take iconic design elements from both Italy and St. Petersburg, highlight things that make each special, and bring that forward in the space."


Their approach blends Mediterranean architecture with vibrant Floridian colors, creating a marketplace that celebrates Italian heritage while capturing the spirit of St. Petersburg. The result will be a unique and memorable experience that combines nostalgia with modern touches, offering visi- tors a glimpse into a bygone era with a contemporary twist.


As the anticipation builds for the grand unveiling of this culi- nary gem in St. Petersburg to unfold in three phases, the first which is set to open in the summer of 2024, Julius Nasso’s vi- sion reflects the power of food to unite hearts, celebrate culture, spark conversations, and create lasting memories that transcend borders and generations.



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