Christopher DePasquale Seiler is a rock star. At 6’1”, he is lean and handsome, sporting a goatee speckled with white hair and a shiny bald head. He walks through the bustling aisles of his workplace, Louie Bossi’s Ristorante, Pizzeria, and Bar, seamlessly and at ease. He is not due into work until later that evening, but that doesn’t stop countless regulars and fellow employees from chatting, high-fiving, and hugging him.
“Sorry it’s so loud,” he says, clearly comfortable with the noise. His voice is as rich as the signature dishes served at this high-energy Italian eatery that prides itself in making almost everything in-house, from their pasta, to their bread, to their salumi and aged steaks.
“I so love coming to work each and every day. Louie Bossi and his wife, Toni, have changed my life. It is very exciting to sell this food, knowing where everything is from and made in-house. I have been in the restaurant business for 32 years and, by far, this is my favorite place I have ever worked.”
Louie Bossi’s Ristorante, Pizzeria, and Bar, a Big Time Restaurant Group eatery, opened in June 2015. Seiler was one of general manager Ryan Underwood’s first hires. Training was intense.
“We did mock services where half of the staff waited on the other half,” Underwood explains. “Chris has worked in some big restaurants, I’ve worked in some big restaurants, and this menu is by far the hardest menu I’ve worked with because we source so many incredible things. They all sound different. You essentially have to learn a second language to a certain extent. Not that we can speak Italian fluently — we can go to Italy and be able to know what these dishes are just by seeing them like that,” he points at the antipasti section. And the amount of ingredients that go into it, the heart and soul that goes into them. There’s over 60 menu items!”
Seiler is able to rattle off and explain all the items by heart.
“I tell the guest, after I get their drink order, ‘Please don’t worry about the menu because I’m going to guide you through it. A lot of the guests, they’ll see it and, if you’ve never been here before, are overwhelmed.”
He begins acclimating his customer, as all servers here do, with a grand tour, which is a good thing because the place has a lot to explore.
There’s the charcuterie bar serving the salumi made on the premises, the gigantic pizza oven offering countless pies prepared in the Neopolitan style, the homemade breads kneaded by a smiling breadmaker, and the restaurant’s impressive display of steaks dry-aging inside a humidity- and temperature-controlled system imported straight from Italy. He ends the tour in the piazza, an al-fresco dining area in the back of the restaurant recreated to look like a little piece of the Old Country, fire pit, fountain, and bocce court included.
“The idea behind it was that if you walk out that back door and you were looking at a piazza, that you would forget you’re in Fort Lauderdale. We wanted you to have that old Italian grandmother’s backyard... and we’ve done a couple things to it, like the creeping ivy growing on the wall. We really wanted it to look like it’s been here for 100 years,” Underwood explains.
Perhaps this is why Seiler is so at ease: because he’s finally found a place he feels at home.
“I joked and used to say, ‘My mother must have been in the restaurant business 'cause I love it so much.’”
The mother he is talking about is his birth mother, a woman he did not meet until he was 43. He’s 48 now.
Adopted at 10 months in Buffalo, NY, Seiler says that, although he had a wonderful upbringing, he felt a void.
“I always had a piece of my puzzle missing.”
And yet, both he and his sister (adopted two years after him) were surrounded with love. “My grandmother had 13 grandkids, and she meant everything to me. My sister and I were treated, um, just incredible.”
He is speaking of Beatrice, a woman who instilled in him the value of family, nurturing, and service. “She built this, um, beautiful flower garden in 1932 when my grandparents built their house, and every day she was in the backyard, and she prayed back there. She also fed the birds and the squirrels and, um, she pruned all her flowers. In the summertime, I’d go there and help her.”
His speech is speckled with "ums," not because he is unsure of what to say, but because he has so much to say he has to pace himself.
“I searched my whole life,” he continues. “When I was 10 years old, on my birthday, I put an ad in the newspaper looking for my birth mother. I did that every year until I was 18, just on my birthday.”
His adoptive parents did not know about it. Only Beatrice. “I kept my secret with my grandmother.”
In his 20s and 30s, he hired a private investigator to help. He learned his biological mother had given him away to Catholic Charities in Buffalo, having already had three kids.
“She did the best thing. They were very poor,” Seiler’s face softens. Inside that tall frame lies an equally large heart.
He also found out another interesting tidbit about his biological mom: She had been a famous waitress at Niagra Falls.
“She worked at a diner in Niagra Falls. People used to wait for her section. They waited for an hour for her tables.”
She did that for ten years until her husband told her she had to stay home and take care of the children. “Back then, you listened to your husband, and she left her job. She was devastated. Devastated. To this day — she’s now 78 — for the last five years, she calls me three times a week and she lives vicariously through me because her passion was the business. And I didn’t know this!”
He perks up telling this story before popping a Sicilian olive marinated in orange, thyme, and olive oil. I grab a piece of taleggio, a semisoft Italian cheese, and dunk it into their housemade truffle-infused honey, dipping and dipping again, wondering if it would be rude to drizzle the elixir straight into my mouth.
“It’s just crazy that this is what I do, and people wait for my table as well!”
He pulls out his business card, a special touch he began several years ago so customers can keep in touch.
“You can’t teach passion,” Underwood adds. “I can’t teach a lot of the things that he wakes up with every single day.” He nudges Seiler, who is sitting beside him on the wide booth. “I wish I could! I try to get him to train other people and all that kind of stuff. But just wanting to please people is beautiful; I mean, it really creates an experience. You can go to dinner anywhere you want. You can get pretty good food, or really good food, or whatever it is. But it’s really the service staff and the vibe of the restaurant that really will make it an experience for you, and then it’s not just going out to dinner, it’s, ‘Hey, we’re going out to see Chris!’”
Seiler finally connected with his birth mother in 2012 via his birth sister, Marilyn, who, when learning of her brother as a grown adult, pressed her mother to sign the adoption registry. It took 15 years of convincing.
“I got a letter in the mail that my sister was looking for me. Then it turns out that my uncle, my mother’s brother, who looks just like me, lives five minutes from my house. Isn’t that amazing? So, yeah, I see my uncle all the time!”
He has 11 biological siblings all together, most of whom still live in upstate New York. His birth mother lives in Sacramento, California.
“I fly home every two months. I save my money and go to Niagra Falls, and I spend time with them. And I see nieces and nephews. Every time I come back from one trip, I book another one! It’s all about family, and life is short. Every night, I put five or ten dollars in an envelope and I save it for my next trip, so I’ll have some spending money and I get to take them to dinner and get to, you know, treat them. That’s what I do with my money.”
His adoptive parents were receptive to Seiler’s discovery.
“I just had dinner with her [my adoptive mother], and she’s so happy with me. Because she knew she’s my mother, she’ll always be my mother, and my father [knew too] there was always a piece of that puzzle missing in my head. In the last five years, I’ve been secure with myself; I’ve been happy with what I do. It all comes together, and it came together at a perfect time of my life.”
We slurp greedily at the linguine vongole that he has ordered for us. The linguine, like all the pasta, is made in-house. The clams are flown in from Rhode Island three times a week and taste as if they were plucked from the ocean moments before.
“I know, I know,” Seiler says, just reading the bliss on my face.
A waiter with olive skin and wavy chestnut hair is walking by. “I learn from the best!” he states emphatically, bowing slightly toward Seiler.
“He’s one of our new guys,” Underwood tells New Times.
“Today’s probably my third day, probably my fourth lunch! I’m very glad to be here. I truly enjoy it.” He rushes off toward the busy lunch crowd.
“No, I did not pay him to do that,” Underwood offers with a sly grin.
The next logical question asked to Seiler: Has he been to Italy?
“It’s funny you ask me that,” he replies, tossing an empty clam shell into a growing pile as he plunges into another story. He is a captivating storyteller, with a deep, luring voice and intense cobalt eyes ("Like my birth mother," he tells New Times.)
“My last trip to Niagara Falls — just two weeks ago — on the way back, I met these ladies from Toronto who sat next to me on the plane. Older ladies, probably in their 70s. They told me they were going to Italy in May, and I said I’ve always dreamed of going, so I’m going with them and a couple of their husbands. I just got the itinerary in the mail! They’ve been here [Louie Bossi’s] twice now, and I just fell in love with these ladies on the plane and they fell in love with me!”
It makes sense. Seiler completes any group he joins — better yet, he enhances it. He did with his adoptive family, whom he clearly cherishes and loves, and with this birth family who, after years of feeling a void, work feverishly to fill it with frequent visits and phone chats. After all, there is a lifetime of catching up to do. And he did it at Louie Bossi’s Ristorante, Pizzeria, and Bar as well, where workers and patrons alike shower him with accolades and love.
“I knew that I was Italian my whole life, but after meeting my biological family and everything... ” he says, drinking in the lunch hour mayhem swirling around him. He rubs his forearm, which is enveloped in a vivid tattoo of flowers that grow past his elbow. On the top sit a blue jay and a cardinal, their beaks clasping a rosary.
“It’s an homage to my grandmother and her garden. She taught me about family,” he says, his voice slowing down just for a nanosecond. At Louie Bossi’s, nothing slows down — not even on your day off.