BY JIM RITCH, Shore First —
Imagine for a moment the many activities that could follow a successful 42-year career in medicine, a career that started in New York and wound up serving the U.S. embassy staff in Rome, Italy.
Was your first thought to open a 24-seat wine and coffee bar in Cape Charles?
That’s exactly what retired gynecologist Paul Caciula, and his wife, Josephine Santoro, also a retired gynecologist, opened in November.
Their unlikely path to owning Pane E Vino included an earthquake, a leading Italian cooking school, ownership of a hotel and 80-seat restaurant, and a black-and-white, cocker spaniel named, Birillo, which translates as “Bowling Pin.”
For Caciula, the path began at Flushing Medical School in New York, where he graduated in 1985.
He worked in the city for 14 years before returning to Italy, where he served in a Rome hospital and met Santoro.
As his career wound on, his love of food grew.
He enrolled in the Gambero Rosso cooking school, performing hospital rounds by day and attending cooking classes at night.
In 1996, Caciula and Santoro purchased a 40-acre farm in the Umbria region, near Tuscany, that included over 300 olive trees.
However, the farm “was too big to have fun,” said Caciula.
So, the hard-working couple retooled it, converting a basement storage area for hay into a restaurant where most of the seating and a remote cooking area were outdoors.
“During the summer, we were cooking outdoors constantly,” said Santoro.
They harvested eggs from their own chickens, vegetables from their garden and bottled their own olive oil.
They turned entire animals on a spit and entertained bus tours of foodies.
Then, in 2016, the first of many earthquakes shook Umbria, eventually cracking the building.
The couple chose to sell and create a smaller restaurant focused on wine and tapas-style cicchetti, small plates of tasty food that customers could share.
They picked Virginia as a middle ground on America’s east coast where this style of cooking was still new.
About six months ago, they wandered into Cape Charles and found a nice beach on which to walk Birillo.
They liked the marina and town, and immediately bid on a condo.
Once again, they live above the restaurant they operate.
And because they still own their farm’s olive trees, they still serve their own olive oil with their own freshly baked bread when customers first sit down.