Elevating Erbil’s Dining Experience to New Heights

At Don Gennaro, each dish, along with the meticulously crafted service, serves as a genuine tribute to Italy’s rich culinary and hospitality heritage.

Born in Naples, Alessandro Casillo embarked on his educational journey abroad at a young age, majoring in finance. He began his career in the finance sector in London, following a path that seemed clearly defined. However, fate had other plans. Erbil, a city not initially on his radar, unexpectedly called to him.

In 2018, a brief visit to Erbil became a pivotal moment in Alessandro’s career. He recalls, “I discovered a hidden gem—a city brimming with untapped potential, yet warmly welcoming to newcomers.” What began as a temporary exploration gradually deepened, with Erbil’s potential resonating with him and transforming his short-term stay into a lasting commitment.

Recognizing the absence of authentic Italian cuisine in Erbil, Alessandro aimed to elevate the city’s dining landscape. Driven by his Italian heritage, he embarked on a mission to launch Don Gennaro by the end of 2020, aiming to introduce the authentic flavors of Italy and premium Italian hospitality to Erbil.

The Neapolitan Impact

Given that Alessandro and his core team— including the manager, chef, and bartender— hail from Naples, Don Gennaro’s menu is significantly influenced by Neapolitan cuisine. Alessandro shares, “Naples is renowned for its rich culinary tradition and strong regional values, which we are immensely proud of. This deeply ingrained pride is vividly reflected in our dishes.” As a result, much of Don Gennaro’s menu draws inspiration from Naples, featuring traditional Neapolitan pastas and pizzas. Unique dishes, such as pasta with potatoes and pasta with beans—specialties rare outside of Naples—also showcase this influence.

The Chef

Chef Angelo Giannino’s vast experience and culinary skills have been key to Don Gennaro’s success. With over 30 years of expertise in the hospitality industry, his ability to adapt and excel in diverse culinary roles, coupled with his mastery of flavors and techniques, has profoundly impacted the restaurant’s dining experience and earned admiration from guests. Under his guidance, Don Gennaro has consistently maintained high quality in its offerings over the past three years—a true testament to his culinary expertise.

High-Quality Ingredients Pivotal

Alessandro’s approach to ensuring the authenticity of Don Gennaro’s dining experience extends beyond assembling a team from Italy; he also strategically imports key ingredients directly from Italy. This dedication to authenticity means that approximately 85% to 90% of the ingredients used at Don Gennaro are sourced from Italy. While fresh produce, like vegetables, is locally sourced, essential items such as meat, fish, flour, and cheese are imported to ensure the highest quality.

Alessandro emphasizes the importance of this strategy, stating, “In Italian cuisine, where simplicity is paramount, the quality of ingredients is crucial. Our commitment to using high-quality ingredients is fundamental. Despite the higher costs, we choose to import from Italy to uphold the high standards we have set.”

Most Popular Dishes

The most popular dishes at Don Gennaro, including Eggplant Parmigiana, Ravioli with Truffle, and Pasta with Lobster, collectively represent the essence of Don Gennaro’s culinary experience by blending traditional Italian flavors with unique, high-quality ingredients.

Eggplant Parmigiana, a traditional Neapolitan dish, has become a favorite among guests for its authentic Italian taste.

Ravioli with Truffle stands out for its luxuriousness. This quintessentially Italian dish, featuring fresh truffles imported from Italy and shaved on top, is a distinctive offering that sets Don Gennaro apart in Erbil.

Lastly, Pasta with Lobster is sought after for its exclusivity. The lobster, sourced directly from Cuba, presents a rare delicacy not commonly found in the market, making it a more upscale option on the restaurant’s menu.

Guests from Naples often express surprise at the authenticity of our food, noting its similarity to what they would find back home.

Alessandro Casillo

Catering to Local Tastes

Since its inception, Don Gennaro has tailored its menu to cater to local tastes. Alessandro remarks, “Over the years, Italian food has become heavily Americanized, straying far from its original authenticity. This has resulted in a local palate more accustomed to a version quite distinct from traditional Italian flavors, a trend that is evident in Erbil as well. Take Chicken Alfredo: in Italy, it’s simply pasta with Parmesan and butter. However, here in Erbil, there’s a popular demand for variations with chicken or mushrooms, reflecting the Americanized style. Despite our initial hesitance, we integrated these variations into our menu, and they have since become some of our most sought-after dishes.”

Extensive Selection of Beverages

Don Gennaro takes great pride in its extensive selection of Italian wines, offering a diverse range to perfectly complement the restaurant’s dishes. The collection features around 120 different labels, showcasing wines from Italy’s premier wine-producing regions, such as Tuscany and Campania. Catering to a variety of preferences and budgets, the wine prices at the restaurant range from $50 to $6000, ensuring there’s an option for every guest. Recognizing the importance of pairing the right wine with each dish, Don Gennaro’s Manager, Corrado De Cenzo, who is also a skilled sommelier, assists guests in making the optimal selection.

The collection features around 120 different labels, showcasing wines from Italy’s premier wine-producing regions, such as Tuscany and Campania.

Excellent Service Quality

Don Gennaro distinguishes itself not only with its authentic Italian cuisine but also by offering high-quality, European-standard service, ensuring an exceptional dining experience for its guests.

To maintain this high level of service, Don Gennaro undertakes numerous behind-the- scenes efforts, led by Manager Corrado De Cenzo. He consistently conducts comprehensive staff training that covers every aspect of service, down to the smallest details. These integral, often unseen aspects of their operation focus on meticulous attention to detail and play a significant role in ensuring the consistency and quality of service at Don Gennaro.

Immersion into Italian Culture

At Don Gennaro, deep immersion into Italian culture is not just promised but lived. The restaurant doesn’t merely serve Italian cuisine; it acts as a cultural gateway, offering Italians a piece of home and introducing others to the rich tapestry of Italian food, hospitality, and traditions. The events organized by the restaurant transcend simple gatherings; they are an essential part of Don Gennaro’s commitment to delivering authentic Italian cultural experiences.

Every Friday, the restaurant transforms into a vibrant classroom, where up to 15 guests have the chance to learn the art of making pasta from scratch. This culinary class is more than just a cooking lesson; it’s an initiation into a quintessential skill that lies at the heart of Italian cuisine.

But Don Gennaro’s cultural offerings extend beyond the kitchen. Under the expert guidance of Corrado De Cenzo, the restaurant is set to unveil a new class that delves into the finer aspects of Italian hospitality. Designed to explore the elegant art of table setting and nuances of service etiquette, this course endeavors to showcase the comprehensive nature of Italian hospitality, which extends well beyond the culinary realm. Aiming to encompass the entire dining experience, from the meticulous art of drink selection to the subtleties of impeccable service, the class ensures that every aspect of Italian dining culture is shared and celebrated.

Don Gennaro has been honored with the prestigious Italian Excellency Award as an Ambassador of Italian Cuisine by the Italian Consulate in Erbil.

Bridging Cultures Through Design

Through its design, Don Gennaro creates a bridge between Italian and Kurdish cultures, offering guests a genuine and immersive experience. While the restaurant’s ambiance is deeply rooted in Italian tradition, it equally resonates with the warmth and familiarity of Kurdish culture, creating an inviting space for everyone.

The journey to create such a harmonious blend began during the design phase when Alessandro, eager to craft a culturally cohesive environment, enlisted Primo Atelier, a design studio based in Naples, to explore Iraqi Kurdish architecture. In their research, Primo Atelier discovered striking architectural parallels between Naples and Kurdistan, especially the prominence of courtyards at the heart of homes, surrounded by graceful arches. This insight became the cornerstone of Don Gennaro’s design, leading to the creation of various dining areas within the restaurant. Each area mirrors the concept of these traditional courtyards, framed by elegant arches.

Further cementing this cultural synthesis, Don Gennaro’s carefully selected color palette features wood tones, brass accents, and earthy hues, all complemented by luxurious marble touches. These elements not only pay homage to the classic Italian aesthetic but also resonate with the natural, grounded aspects prevalent in Kurdish design. The use of marble, extending from the floors to the walls, adds a layer of sophistication and authenticity, enhancing the overall Italian ambiance.

The Expansion

Alessandro Casillo’s commitment to enhancing Erbil’s culinary scene has prompted the expansion of the Don Gennaro brand into the bakery sector. Alessandro aims to elevate the standard and quality in the local bakery sector by incorporating the same high-quality ingredients for which Don Gennaro is renowned.

The bakery branch of Don Gennaro, set to feature approximately 15 different types of bread, Italian sandwiches, and a selection of patisserie items, is poised to deliver an authentic Italian bakery experience. The initial feedback from guests on their bakery products has been exceptionally positive, indicating a promising future for this new endeavor. “Our foray into the bakery business is more than an expansion; it’s a step towards establishing a new benchmark in the market, leveraging Don Gennaro’s reputation for quality and excellence,” Alessandro concludes.

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