Cosmos… the place to be and to be seen

by Jeff Lytle

Cosmos is an apt name for the longstanding café and pizzeria on U.S. 41 in the heart of the city. It stands for a universe of luck backed by boundless hard work and community good will. That recipe has been making magic there for more than a decade – a star amid the revolving door of the local restaurant scene.

Luck brought the owners together in Naples years earlier, in 2003, when Gianluca Corso, from a restaurant family in Italy, made a chance visit to Naples. “I met this girl,’’ he says of the former Eva Geary, who was home on break from college in Philadelphia. They would marry after she finished degrees in psychology and accounting and he managed several restaurants elsewhere.

Since leasing a tiny Cosmos with 24 seats on the eve of the recession of 2008 with flour prices soaring, the Corsos now have 160 seats and a full-service bar, and they own the whole building (as well as the food concession at Naples Pier). One of their first hires was a head chef, a native of Guatemala, who Corso now calls “more Italian than I am.’’ Corso’s mother comes from Italy every winter to teach new recipes and pasta-making.

It is all part of a global feel at Cosmos, with employees – many of whom speak fluent Italian – from all over the
world, including Haiti, Poland, Macedonia, Mexico, Sicily and Sardinia. But the soul is all Italian, Corso says: Sharing food and wine, loyalty to family and friends, and afternoon naps. “I could die and be born 10 more times, and this is all I would want to do,’’ he says. Corso, 41, has no secrets about his success. When a young person asks for career advice, he asks in return: “How hard are you willing to work? And how much do you love people?’’

He works hard at greeting everyone – one reason why 85 percent of guests are repeat customers, such as Naples Mayor Bill Barnett: “Cosmos is our favorite little Italian restaurant. They are like family to us … We eat there at least once a week.’’ Another regular, John Cardillo Sr., cites three reasons for Cosmos’ success: “One is the personality of Gianluca, who makes everyone feel that he has known them for years; two is the food is good; and three is the prices are reasonable and the casual atmosphere makes everyone feel comfortable.’’

Corso thrives on giving back via causes such as the Shelter for Abused Women & Children, Fun Time Academy, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the Collier County 100 Club supporting law enforcement. “I came to Naples with nothing  and was nobody,’’ says Corso, “and everybody helped me become a somebody. Now we do whatever we can to help.’’ Mayor Barnett adds: “During Hurricane Irma he fed all the first responders and is always doing charity events there. It’s a lot more than just another restaurant!’’

One last question: What is it that makes Italian restaurants the favorites of so many people? Corso credits the simplicity of the food and its rich flavors – and the love with which it is made properly, from scratch: “The colors of the room change when you eat that.’’

Lytle is the retired editorial page editor and TV host at the Naples Daily News. Jeff can be reached by email at Jlytle@comcast.net

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