Baton Rouge’s culinary scene was dealt a surprising blow last week when Latte e Miele owner Luca Di Martino confirmed on the restaurant’s Facebook page what many had suspected—the Jefferson Highway gelateria and restaurant was closing.
In the midst of a cross-country drive to visit family, Di Martino spoke exclusively with 225 about his decision to close the restaurant.
Latte e Miele started in 2008 on Highland Road across Interstate 10 from Blue Bayou. Di Martino partnered with his father, Corrado, bringing specialty coffees and gelato to the Capital City area. A year after opening, they moved the business to the Jefferson Highway location, where it regularly expanded services over its five-year run. Most recently, Latte e Miele became a full-service restaurant with plans to serve dinner and liquor with executive chef Marcus Day, who had been working at the restaurant for over a year.
However, Di Martino says tending to family obligations made running Latte e Miele difficult.
In January, Corrado was diagnosed with brain and colon tumors, and cancer spread to his lungs and brain. As he began to lose his mobility, dexterity and speech, Di Martino volunteered to take care of his father.
“I was with him 24 hours a day,” Di Martino says.
Corrado passed away in April, and Di Martino took a short break from the business before returning to “try and play catch up” at Latte e Miele. However, family obligations concerning Corrado’s estate as well as restaurant renovations and improvements all came to a head.
“I was trying to juggle absolutely everything,” Di Martino says. “There were a lot of factors we couldn’t control with the restaurant, too. I really thought we would have the ability to acquire a liquor license sooner [rather] than later. There were so many delays with everything we wanted to do. We would get through one advancement, then another obligation would come up. I just couldn’t ask my staff to continue to do this and wait. I couldn’t ask them to go on without me. I had to just close the doors.”
Di Martino says he discussed the closing with his staff a week and a half prior to closing to “make sure they had enough time to exit properly,” as well as give his staff recommendations.
“I have an incredibly committed staff,” he says. “This closing had nothing to do with them or my dedicated clientele. It was a huge decision I had to make. It’s hard to walk away from this. It’s six years of 14-hour days, seven days a week. And I’m not someone who gives up and walks away. It’s bittersweet.”
Di Martino also singled out Day, saying the executive chef was “the perfect person to work with and develop Latte e Miele.”
“He’s one of the only chefs I saw eye-to-eye with,” Di Martino says. “He had a lot of sweat equity invested in the business. He’s super capable of getting a far-better-paying job in no time.”
As far as the location is concerned, Di Martino says he’s had as many as 15 offers. He says he is working with the landlord “to find the most appropriate tenant to take advantages of all the hard work I put into the building.”
“I want someone there who will make a significant contribution to the community and maintain that space,” he says.
After Di Martino posted the news to Facebook last week, he received an overwhelming amount of positive response and support.
“That helps me bolster my desire to come back,” he says. “I’m not sure about the future right now. There is incredible potential in Baton Rouge. I spent six years dedicating my life to the city’s growth, encouraging others to stay put and keep their noses to the grindstone.”
For now, Di Martino isn’t sure when he could return to the Capital City’s culinary scene and admits there will be some time spent dealing with family obligations here and overseas. It could be next spring or summer, he says, but he is holding out hope for something local.
“Do I see myself coming back to Baton Rouge? Absolutely,” he says.