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To combat the industry’s sexist lean, Donna surrounds herself with trusted supporters. Donna Perlo Owner, Perlo’s Italian Grill

BY MALLORY DIAMOND | Photo by Jenniffer Merida

Perlo’s Italian Grill is a gem of East Rochester – a hidden gem to some Rochesterians, but to frequenters, this feel-good neighborhood eatery is a hotspot for great food and good times with friends. Like every Perlo’s patron, I was greeted at the door by Donna Perlo herself, who, after a friendly “Hi, how are you” to the folks at the buzzing bar, joined me in a smaller dining room to chat. Founded in 2001, the 150-seat restaurant was inspired by family-filled Sunday meals at the Perlo household. Donna says the restaurant brings people together in celebration of life’s moments, both big and small. “The best compliment is when they keep coming back,” she says. “It’s just a huge compliment that they celebrate all the important events in their lives here with us.” Perlo’s customers are so loyal, in fact, that Donna, who strives to learn each name, labels house dishes after them. This is a testament to Donna’s determination to treat restaurant patrons the same as she would her friends and family; she regularly attends weddings, graduations and the like for her customers. Donna says she learned the ins and outs of customer service by working with her father and brother in the family business, Fioravanti Flower Shop, since she was fourteen. Her passion for people emerged when she transitioned to the restaurant business. Donna calls the restaurant biz “controlled chaos,” but she seems right at home in its high energy, constantly “on” environment. This isn’t to say Donna’s not had her fair share of challenges – especially as a woman restaurateur. “What’s offered to some people by distributors is not always offered to me,” says Donna. “You have to have a very strong presence and personality to recognize it and work around the system.” To combat the industry’s sexist lean, Donna surrounds herself with trusted supporters, including her husband, Brian DiNardo, whose vigilance ensures Donna never suffers an unfair deal. If you’ve ever seen an episode of “Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares,” you might be extra suspicious of what lurks behind the swinging doors of restaurant kitchens. But as Donna escorted me back to the Perlo’s kitchen, the sparkling cleanliness of the space was obvious. Uniformed chefs tended a row of cast-iron grills, pausing every so often to stir a sauce or two. Not a crusty pot or pan in sight. A steaming plate of gnocchi, covered in a delicious-looking orangey tomato sauce, whizzed past me, balanced on the tray of a Perlo’s server. Donna says a lot of the spirit of the Italian dishes at Perlo’s came from her grandparents – especially her grandmother, whose signature dish was gnocchi. “She was an incredible cook,” says Donna. “I would sit there with her and she would teach me how to roll the gnocchi down the fork.” Donna says Perlo’s provides an intimate dining experience to every customer, regardless of food restrictions or preferences. If a guest wants something without onions, or gluten-free, it’s doable. Plus, everything at Perlo’s is made from scratch. Donna is even known to bring back dishes from her trips to NYC – refrigerated in her hotel room and then packed in ice – so her chefs can develop a variation of the dish for the menu. (continued on page 46)

Profile for Rochester Woman Magazine

July 2013 Issue  

Our July issue focuses on two of our favorite things....food & wine. On our Cover is Kristen Flores-Fratto, owner of The Gatehouse Restauran...

July 2013 Issue  

Our July issue focuses on two of our favorite things....food & wine. On our Cover is Kristen Flores-Fratto, owner of The Gatehouse Restauran...

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