Alyssa Faykus/Banner-Press, Published January 28, 2020
After 40 years in the restaurant business, nothing much has changed for Chef Silvio DiGennaro. He still gets up every morning to make bread for Volare Italian Restaurant and serve his customers, one reason why he continues to run his business.
“When I was younger, I went to chef school. It’s part of a chef’s dream, to own a restaurant,” he said.
DiGennaro came to Texas to visit Houston on vacation and “met a girl and I decided to stay for a little while.” Before moving to Texas, he owned a few restaurants with his brothers in Italy, an ice cream shop and a coffee bar.
Volare opened in Brenham in 1998 downtown and moved seven years later to its current location at 102 S. Ross Street. DiGennaro moved to Brenham in late 1997 after a visit with his in-laws who had moved to Burton.
“I was in Houston for 7 years then my father-in-law bought some property in Burton so we came one day to visit them and we stopped through Brenham,” he said. “We stopped in town and thought it was a cute, little town and saw there was a restaurant for sale. I got the number and I called and soon enough I had a contract in my hands. I was going to try to open (a restaurant) in Houston but it looked like my wife’s parents were moving this way and we decided to try and open a restaurant here.”
DiGennaro hails from Matera, Italy near Naples. His mother was born on the border of Austria, so he was raised “half-German.” When he began his restaurant here, many people told him he would not make it in a German town, but he wanted to try.
“My mom made schnitzel, goulash, fresh sauerkraut and you would run away from the house when she was making it because the vinegar was so strong,” he said. “I said, ‘If Italian doesn’t go, I could make a German restaurant.’”
Luckily he has received a great response from Brenham and has also been mentioned in articles in Texas Monthly and Southern Living during his tenure.
Volare has mostly stayed the same over the years. Once people know what they like, there isn’t much change needed according to DiGennaro.
“Change is a good thing. We want to change some,” he said. “We have so many customers that like the same thing over and over. We used to have one customer, he used to come from day one, would order the same dish for 10 years. We knew what he would want, we would order it for him and he was happy.
“I have a special everyday that lets me do something different. The menu has always been the same with a few adjustments.”
DiGennaro especially likes when he gets to interact with his customers; that’s why he goes to work everyday.
“Something’s inside of you; you like to be satisfied when the customer appreciates what you make for them. It gives you a reason to do better,” he said.