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Viva la Liqueur!
Katie Wilmeth | Photo: Nicole Wolf | May 29, 2013
Francesco Amodeo launches a business that’s all about the good life.
Perhaps it’s a cliche to say that all Italians are passionate people, but it’s difficult not to succumb to the stereotype with stories like that of Francesco Amodeo. The Amalfi coast native moved to the District on a whim in 2006, after falling in love with the city during a vacation to celebrate his 23rd birthday.
“I loved it,” says the dreamy Italian of his adopted city. “So I packed my bags and moved here from a town of 800 people.”
What followed was a whirlwind courtship with the city’s burgeoning creative-cocktail scene, culminating in the January launch of Don Ciccio & Figli, an artisanal liqueur company based on the more than century-old recipes of Amodeo’s grandfathers.
Amodeo—who got his start as a cashier in his uncle’s picturesque seaside restaurant in Positano and later worked as a master sommelier in some of Italy’s best restaurants—quickly found success in DC. His resume includes management stints at Butterfield 9, Hook and Cafe Milano, and, most recently, beverage program director and GM at Bibiana Osteria Enoteca.
While moving up the ranks, Amodeo was also making and mixing his own artisanal liqueur flavors. With patrons repeatedly returning specifically for his drinks—and asking where they could purchase the liqueurs—Amodeo decided it was time to remake his family’s business in America.
Founded in 1883 by both of his grandfathers, the Italian distillery operated until 1980, when an earthquake devastated the coast and crumbled the business. More than three decades later, Amodeo got his grandfathers’ blessing—and a leather-bound book with 45 family liqueur recipes—and launched the business in DC.
Don Ciccio & Figli is a microbusiness in the truest sense of the word. Operating out of a nondescript “wet house” off Georgia Avenue, Amodeo makes 20 cases at a time during a painstaking three-week process that produces, for now, six different liqueurs. Amodeo makes the traditional limoncello, a popular Italian after-dinner aperitif, as well as more exotic flavors, like hibiscus and prickly pear.
All the liqueurs use authentic Italian ingredients and a few locally sourced fruits. The flavors are now available at liquor stores throughout the DC region, and more than two dozen of the city’s hottest bars (The Passenger, Marvin, The Gibson and Hank’s Oyster Bar, to name a few) are using the liqueurs and Amodeo’s creative cocktail recipes on their menus. But one might say it’s the personalities, not the ingredients, that give his cocktails a kick.
“I believe every cocktail has attitude just like an Italian woman,” says Amodeo, who names all of his recipes after feisty Italian women.
Amodeo has plans to increase the number of flavors Don Ciccio & Figli offers, as well as expand up the East Coast (his liqueurs are already available in Boston), but it’s DC that he remains passionate about, he says.
“This is my love letter to the city.”
Amodeo’s cocktails are based on the feisty women in his life.
1 1/2 oz. Don Ciccio & Figli mandarin orange
1/2 oz. Aperol
0.5 oz Cocchi Americano
1 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
Shake and serve in a martini glass.
*Amodeo’s “fun, but complex” cousin