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March 29, 2014

Pair returns to Oneonta with Italian restaurant

Toscana Northern Italian Grill opened in Oneonta on Feb. 13 as a homecoming of sorts for the culinary artists who own the restaurant.

Angelo Carimando and Tony Pepaj had worked together in the Oneonta restaurant business for several years when they decided to open Toscana Northern Italian Grill on Main Street in Cooperstown in June of 2012. But the men felt the pull of Oneonta.

“I would see people around, or they would come to Cooperstown, (and) tell me they wished Tony and I were back in Oneonta,” Carimando said. “There was a lot of people that missed us.”

Both Carimando and Pepaj, who are related, have a background in food service. Carimando grew up in a pizzeria and remembers many summer holidays and weekends working in the family business.

“I was in the restaurant working growing up,” Carimando said. “In kitchen doing dishes always. I learned it. I like working for myself. I almost shied away from the restaurant business at one point. You work so hard building a business and then you see there is no support — working for someone else.”

Pepaj came from a restaurant background in Florida. He owned controlling interest in a couple of restaurants in the Boca Raton area. In 2008, he came to Oneonta and work for Rick Guerrero with his nephew, Carimando, at the reopened Italian Kitchen.

When the Italian Kitchen closed for the second time, Carimando and Pepaj opened Toscana in Cooperstown. Known as a Tuscan/European fusion restaurant, the Cooperstown location has built a business serving delicacies such as escargot, frog legs and duck cassis. The Oneonta location is serving a similar menu.

In 2013, Carimando and Pepaj were driving together after a game of golf when they passed the small strip mall on Chestnut Street. Carimando said he noticed the sign indicating there was space for rent. At the same time, he saw the college students waiting for the bus and the plentiful parking in the strip mall.

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