Chef David Wright was already part of the family when he purchased Sydney restaurant, Buon Ricordo. He shares his thoughts on buying a legendary venue and making it his own. By Lynne Testoni
Based in Paddington, NSW, and formerly fronted by the legendary Armando Percuoco, Buon Ricordo has been serving up traditional Italian food combined with neighbourhood charm for more than 30 years.
Percuoco was (and still is) a strong personality, a famous part of the Sydney food scene. He and his wife Gemma Cunningham had always been the faces of the restaurant to their regulars, who could be excused for thinking it was a tragedy when the couple decided to retire and sell the business in 2018.
However, it seems that potential disaster was averted. In what was possibly the smoothest handover in restaurant history, the new owner is the restaurant’s longtime head chef, David Wright, who bought Buon Ricordo (with wife Rosalba) from Percuoco and Cunningham in 2018 and has made it his own, while still honouring its traditions and its many devoted customers.
Part of the family
For Wright, 33, taking over from Percuoco was almost his destiny—he has spent more than half his life working in its kitchen, he met his wife there and he considers Percuoco and Cunningham to be his family.
He joined Buon Ricordo at the age of 17, after winning a state prize through TAFE and Restaurant & Catering as a 17-year-old apprentice from the NSW Central Coast. The prize included $1000 and a week’s work experience at Buon Ricordo.
“A few months after the award night I came and did my week’s work experience with Armando and at the end of the week, Chef offered me the job,” he recalls.
“I had to go home and convince my mum and dad on the Central Coast to let me come to Sydney and work for Chef Armando and told them it was the best restaurant I’d ever seen and that I had to be there.”
Why Buon Ricordo
“I knew instantly walking into that kitchen that it was where I had to be,” he says. “I worked at a few other restaurants before that; so-called Italian restaurants. But they didn’t smell right. I’m really blessed to have a Sicilian grandmother who had the house next door to us when I was growing up.
“It’s a typical story—basically every day after school, going home and doing all those things you do with your nonna, such as cooking. And when I came to Buon Ricordo it was the same; the same smell, the same everything, and I knew this was where I had to learn.”
Wright completed his apprenticeship at Buon Ricordo and then worked in a two-starred Michelin restaurant on Italy’s Amalfi Coast (a placement organised by Percuoco) for the following two years, before returning to Sydney, Buon Ricordo, and eventually the position of head chef at the tender age of 23.
He even met his wife Rosalba in the kitchen—they were both apprentices together and she was his sous chef, carrying on the tradition of Purcuoco and Cunningham and continuing the family feeling of the restaurant.
“Rosa is truly the best; I couldn’t do it without her,” he says. “We’ve worked together for 16 years. Both of us have spent half of our lives here inside these four walls.”
Now a father to two young boys, Wright runs the kitchen with his brother Luke doing front of house, while Rosalba helps with the mise en place two mornings a week in between parenting. Wright still speaks to Percuoco and Cunningham almost daily.
He believes the key to Buon Ricordo’s success is the family atmosphere.
“When we took over, the boys were very young (they are five and three years old now), and we were right in the thick of it,” he explains. “The baby would sleep on the linen in the linen drawer as the waiters set up, while mum and dad were in the kitchen preparing everything for the night service. And I think it’s that side of the restaurant that people don’t see.”
The new custodians
The staff of the restaurant all stayed on after Wright took over, helping to make the transition for customers even easier.
“Everyone that’s with us was at our wedding,” he says. “They’re family. You spend so much time with these people that you become close to them. People have been here for 20 years, and I think that’s a huge compliment to ourselves, that people are still with us. That’s something we don’t take for granted—our staff are amazing.”
“I think a lot of people don’t realise how long we’ve actually been here,” Wright adds. “I’ve been in this place seeing customers’ faces for years, watching families grow up. We’ve done huge amounts of birthdays, christenings, wakes, even. I don’t think we could ever take that privilege for granted. We look at it as a responsibility to continue on. Some people don’t call it our restaurant. We’re just the custodians.”