Love of pizza leads to American Dream for Naples businessman

Scott McIntyre/Staff
Chef Leo Rubio plates a dish in the kitchen at Cosmos Cafe and Pizzeria in downtown Naples. Cosmos is one business that has flourished while many others close up shop. Since opening with 26 seats, Gianluca Corso has grown Cosmos to 85 seats, added a deli and bought the building where his businesses are.

Photo by SCOTT MCINTYRE // Buy this photo

Scott McIntyre/Staff Chef Leo Rubio plates a dish in the kitchen at Cosmos Cafe and Pizzeria in downtown Naples. Cosmos is one business that has flourished while many others close up shop. Since opening with 26 seats, Gianluca Corso has grown Cosmos to 85 seats, added a deli and bought the building where his businesses are.

Naples' own version of the American dream is from the island of Sardinia.

He loves soccer. He loves espresso in the morning. And he loves pizza.

It is that love of pizza — and pasta — that has propelled Gianluca Corso into one of the community's most successful small businessmen.

In four years — not to mention a down economy — he has grown Cosmos Italian Cafe and Pizzeria from a restaurant with 26 seats and three employees to an 86-seat restaurant, a deli and 24 employees in season. He purchased the building Cosmos is in and rounded up tenants to utilize the additional units.

All by age 34.

"He personified the American way," said Stephen Farrington, Corso's former landlord. "He's come from Sardinia, but he works hard and he puts all of his energy (into his business). He's an unusual young man. But (his experience) is a lesson that could be taught to others."

Corso opened Cosmos in January 2008, having moved from San Francisco back to Naples with his wife, Eva, who wanted to be closer to her family.

The restaurant, located at 536 U.S. 41 N., had 26 chairs and, to get to the bathroom, you had to walk through the kitchen. Corso ran it with Eva and one other waitress, working from 8 a.m. to midnight.

It paid off. Two months later, his shop was voted one of the best pizza places in Naples by Daily News readers.

"That was huge," Corso said.

Soon after, Corso's mother came from Italy to help the restaurant, making homemade pasta for the restaurant.

"She always told me, 'Only use the best quality and freshest ingredients.' She never gave me her recipes, but she gave me that advice," he said, laughing.

Corso holds onto his mother's advice, though, making pasta and pizza dough from scratch and using fresh ingredients.

But even with good food and people talking, Corso admits 2008 was rough.

"It was the worst of the economy," he said. "It was very difficult for us."

Still, Cosmos stayed afloat. In 2009 Corso started to notice a wait outside his restaurant on the weekend. He responded by building a patio and increasing staff to six. As line outside got longer, Corso put out garlic knots and gave diners glasses of wine to keep them waiting.

"I didn't want them to leave," he said.

Needing to do something about the overflow problem, Cosmos expanded to the next storefront over. The move added an additional 60 seats and, with new bathrooms, kept diners out of the kitchen.

"Once we did that, people really started to come," he said.

Last year was even better, Corso said. In April 2011 he bought the building Cosmos is located in from Farrington. Corso found four tenants to fill the building, and used one space for himself to open a deli.

From a staff of three, they grew to a staff of 24 during the season.

At lunch on a Monday, Corso walks around the restaurant, joking with patrons, talking about the Italy's chances in the Euro 2012 soccer semifinal. But it is not just about knowing the customers, said Naples City Councilman Bill Barnett, who said he eats there as much as three times a week "when my wife is out of town."

"He watches the food, he watches the service. Everything he does is driven by Gianluca," Barnett said. "If someone else was running the restaurant, with the same chef, it would not be the same."

Corso said the food has to be good — he eats at the restaurant for most meals. He loves the fettuccine pasta, he said, and could eat pizza every day.

"I do steal a slice every day," he said. "Simplicity makes the best pizza because you can taste each individual flavor."

Corso said his success is simple.

"No. 1, I have a job I really love. If I was born 10 times over, I would do this job again," he said. "I have amazing help. My wife has been so supportive. And we have people who talk about us. We have great word-of-mouth."

Buoyed by his success in Naples, Corso's family in Sardinia has started a Cosmos Pizza.

He said he would like to eventually see three or four Cosmos around the city. But he also sees the problem in that.

"I would want to be there all the time," he said. "I like to be on top of the business. I couldn't do that and be here."

© 2012 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 12

Here4Now writes:

Truly one of the best pizzas, and Italian food, in Naples. Great authentic feel. Priced fairly. I highly recommend it.

gcflycatcher writes:

Cosmos is the best!! We love the pizza and great Italian food. Gianluca you rock!!

lydiagirl writes:

Everytime my husband and I are in town, we eat at Cosmos. Being from NY and being exposed to excellent Italian food and pizza, Cosmos is as just as good. All your hard work has paid off. Congratulations to you and your family

FlaBlkPanther writes:

The BEST food in Naples, it beats the fancy restaurants on 5th hands down!! The other thing that makes Cosmos #1 is Gianliuca's personality! Always talks to everyone and makes you feel like your at home!
Congrats!

mycophile2 writes:

in response to cayenne:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Why would you even bother with such a s----- comment? What issues do you have? This is a story of a successful local enterprise and you try to politicize it because you are homophobic? Get a real life.

swfl_ff writes:

in response to mycophile2:

Why would you even bother with such a s----- comment? What issues do you have? This is a story of a successful local enterprise and you try to politicize it because you are homophobic? Get a real life.

I have to wonder too. I saw the comment before it was removed and it had no place with this article.

Cayenne, lemon or whatever you are going by this week give it up. While you personally may have a problem with homosexuals the rest of us do not care. It is a personal issue and does not involve any of us.

If what they are truly doing is wrong then they will be judged on their actions by a much higher authority than any of us including you. In the meantime just live and let live. The rest of us are getting tired of your continuous tirades about this subject.

swfl_ff writes:

Congratulations to this business for their success. It is nice to see a local business doing so well in this economy. I will have to try them out one of these days.

sam1232 writes:

Great Food!!! I love thier deli.

starvingartist writes:

I don't mind a good Infomerical now and again and occasionally I like to mess with Telemarketers, but I sure miss reading about real news with the Naples Dailey.

opheliac (Inactive) writes:

LOL Checked out the photos - Besides the owner, is anyone in that kitchen even Italian???

sultryred writes:

I live within walking distance and Cosmos is truly an amazing restaurant run by a very genuine soul. I've never seen the place slow - word of good food gets out and the place is always busy, yet the owner remembers our faces when we walk in, even when we haven't been there for awhile. One thing not mentioned in the article -- he has the best Tiramisu I've ever tasted. The Cantalones are also amazing pastries. I remember my first visit, when you had to go through the kitchen to reach the ladies room, and I saw them making the Cantalones the RIGHT way in the kitchen and that was when I knew this was a good restaurant. Order dessert -- trust me!

fritobandito writes:

Everything at this place is good; we go here often. HIGHLY recommended.

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