Fabiano’s Pizzería and the Expat Experience: A Love Story
by Kathryn McCullough
It’s a given. To eat at Fabiano’s is to love Fabiano’s. Many of us in Cuenca can’t help ourselves. We’ve been romanced by the restaurant. And rightly so. We glory in their garlic knots; we’re smitten by a pizza that’s as affordable as it is New York delicious.
But even more fabulous than the food are the people who prepare it. And knowing Fabiano’s family and the story behind the restaurant only makes the tiramisu tastier and the lasagna more luscious. I promise you, Fabiano’s Pizzería is more about love than money, more about community and caring than dollars and cents. It’s about a shared cultural journey, one many of us as expats can relate to.
Remember, pizza is a comfort food to North Americans. It reminds us of home. And from the plants out front to the lanterns hanging by the door, from the adobe and brick walls to the beamed colonial ceiling, Fabiano’s creates a comfortable atmosphere that pulls expats and Ecuadorians alike in off the street. It gives us all a restaurant that feels like home and brings us into the heart of one Cuencano family—a family who, like us, has also lived as expats, who knows what it’s like to build a new life in a new land.
Restaurant owners Fabiano and Jackie met at a party when they were only 16-years-old. They became friends, fell in love, married, and had daughter Jocelyne by the time they were 18. But when their child was still an infant and jobs in Ecuador were hard to come by, Fabiano and Jackie moved to the U.S.—an immigration that bound their family more closely and launched their love affair with the U.S. and the people of North America.
You see, because Fabiano had been cooking since he was a curious 10-years-old in his grandmother’s Cuenca kitchen, he decided to look for and eventually found a restaurant job in the U.S. Hoping to pursue his culinary passion, Fabiano was employed by an Italian foodie family in Connecticut, the chefs and owners of which only deepened his love affair with flavor and his fascination with how they combine to both please the palate and feed the deepest places in people.
But while Fabiano and family had undertaken a culinary journey in the U.S., they had begun a cultural one, as well. Jackie insists that their 15 years in the U.S., not only taught them to love North Americans, it also allowed them to understand the expat experience so many Gringos in Ecuador are now living. She believes that shared experience is what connects them to the customers they serve and the friends they inevitably make in their restaurant—friends whom they love—friends who become family—friends whose journey of immigration is also their journey, whose story is their story. Indeed, one of the things that binds families together is a shared narrative—a narrative that Fabiano and Jackie have in common with all of us who are new to beautiful Ecuador.
But for their daughter Jocelyne, who is now a 19-year-old student at the University of Azuay, the expat experience reversed itself. Her parents had taken her to the U.S. as an infant, so English became her first language; and her oldest and deepest friendships were formed, not in Ecuador, but in Connecticut. Her return to Cuenca was not an easy one. She struggled to speak Spanish fluently—the language she needed to succeed in Ecuador’s schools. Certainly, Jackie and Fabiano returned to Cuenca for their daughter’s sake, to benefit her future and to broaden her educational opportunities. But making that future happen, grabbing hold of that opportunity in a land new to her, would be an adjustment for any adolescent. And, in fact, it was working in the family restaurant (an establishment frequented by North Americans, with whose culture she identified) that helped Jocelyne begin feeling at home here in Ecuador. And just as Fabiano’s Pizzería now gives expats a place to speak English with a Cuencano family and with one another on Gringo Nights (Fridays), her parents’ restaurant gave Jocelyne a place to speak English with others like herself, others who are making the same kinds of adjustments she once was, folks who are learning the same language and beginning to embrace the same culture.
Indeed, Fabiano, Jackie, and Jocelyne have twice crossed the cultural divide that is the expat experience. They’ve crossed it in both directions, as Cuencanos going to America and as an American-raised teenager coming to Cuenca. It’s this shared story that makes the pizza at Fabiano’s more than mere food and the restaurant more than the place where that food is served. For, Fabiano’s Pizzería gives us all a seat at the same table—a shared meal—a shared journey—a love that that’s wider than a pizza pie.