Life is full of twists and turns that keep it an interesting ride for us all. Doors close, windows open. Possibilities come and go. Change is inevitable. Pages turn and each fabulous adventure we enjoy leads us to another. And so it is for longtime Charlotte restaurateurs, Jessica and Chef Luca Annunziata.
At the end of Easter Brunch service on April 1, 2018, Luca/Modern Italian Kitchen will close its doors for the last time.
But THIS IS NOT by any means, the end of the story… to the contrary, its the beginning of a delicious new chapter for this passionate husband and wife team, their talented front and back of the house staff at Luca/Modern Italian Kitchen and for all of us, who love what they do so well.
Jessica and Luca moved to Charlotte in 2005. Soon after Luca started at Cafe Sienna located in the Holiday Inn Uptown and then moved to the Westin Hotel as chef de cuisine. While Luca was getting his feet wet in Charlotte culinary circles, Jessica spent her time looking for a site where they could open a restaurant of their own and begin to make their dreams come true.
The couple opened Passion 8 in Ft. Mill, SC (just over the NC/SC state line) in 2006. It was a small, dimly lit, quirky little spot they made their own and it wasn’t long before they started making waves and getting attention, turning the 42 seat space into a Charlotte-area dining destination.
The food, the service, the genuine vibe – it was all incredible! Jessica and Luca transformed the space themselves and then set out to transform the way locals thought about food. Luca had a small but talented team in the kitchen and Jessica was a whiz both behind the bar and in the front of the house. As they continued to exceed everyone’s expectations, food-centric folk far and wide started taking note, this food writer included.
I am extremely proud to say I was the first, among my culinary journalist print and television media colleagues, to feature Jessica and Luca and what they were doing at Passion 8, early on in 2006; and have written about them in Charlotte Living magazine, in other regional publications and in the digital pages of this blog – HeidiBillottoFood.com many times since.
I am privileged to be the first to share their news today.
In the late fall of 2006, my husband Tom Billotto and I went to Passion 8 for lunch. It was just a month or so after the restaurant had quietly opened and we were the only customers in the dining room. For us, lunch led to dinner for more of the same – all it took was that first meal, that first meeting and we were hooked! We’ve been fans and good friends with Jess and Luca ever since! So proud of all this culinary couple have accomplished and excited for all that is to come.
I am delighted to have gotten the ball rolling back then; but, it wasn’t long after that first article that the accolades started pouring in from food writers and others in the know around the region.
“It was such a blessing to be watch our dream become reality, ” Jessica told me. “There was much accomplished in the 13 years we’ve been in business. We have truly lived out our mission.”
And, in the course of it all, Jessica and Luca have made this part of the country their home, growing their family of two to three with the birth of their son Julian in 2013.
In October of 2014 after eight years in business, the couple and the Passion 8 concept outgrew the Ft. Mill location. The Annunziata’s moved their business uptown to Elizabeth Avenue, first as Passion 8; and then, in this past year, as Luca/Modern Italian Kitchen.
When the couple started at Passion 8, they started building relationships with local farmers and driving home the importance of the city’s local food movement. Then, when they changed the menu and embraced the concept of Luca/Modern Italian Kitchen, they had the joy of returning to Chef Luca’s Italian roots with the same Italian fare Luca grew up with – making the nightly menu an homage to his mom and dad. For Luca and Jessica, the change in name and concept marked an out loud celebration of who they are and the roots the two call home.
Over the years the Annunziatas and both of their restaurant concepts have been the recipients of outstanding honors and awards; and the couple has been a catalyst in fundraising for important causes in which they were able to make a difference.
Chef Luca is a founding member of Piedmont Culinary Guild. Jessica became a culinary advisor at CPCC and a board member to Javesca Feeds. They were front runners, together with many other chef-driven restaurant’s in town, in celebrating farm to fork cuisine in the Queen City and in raising the public consciousness of the benefits of supporting local farms and farmers and in eating local. To this day, early farmers’ market shoppers will run into Chef Luca every Saturday morning at one area farmers’ market or another.
“This is a really exciting time for us, ” Jessica continued when she told me the news of their next chapter.
“First and foremost, we will finally have more time to spend as a family. And we’ll be able to take some time to enjoy the rest necessary to be consistently creative and to discover other ways of self expression.”
While Luca and the team now in place at the restaurant will continue cooking together in Charlotte ( more to come as to where), Jessica is excited to soon start planning small group experiential tours to undiscovered culinary destinations and is developing a concept for her own blog about food & bev-centric travel!
“My new adventure is something that I have dreamed of doing for as long as I can remember and I feel like this is definitely the right time. It will give me time with Luca and with Julian. It just all seems to be falling into place.”
So, I know what you are asking…. enough already, what’s the next big thing, where will we find Luca after April 1?
We’ll, here it is in a nutshell… I know, but am sworn to secrecy for now and wild horses couldn’t drag it out of me. It’s going to be wonderful and I can’t wait to tell you all about it!
Meanwhile, make reservations… go and see Luca and Jessica this week and enjoy the last tastes of Luca/Modern Italian Kitchen. #TellThemHeidiSentYou
Then, what I can say for now, is that you should look forward to enjoying the same great food, service and degree of excellence to which we have all become accustomed…
Can’t wait for the start of the next and newest chapter in this culinary story…stay tuned!
It has to be something great, because these two people are very special and deserve nothing less than wonderful! Love, Mama Darla
Jim and I wish you the best. And let us know when the next opening is.