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Basi Italia Celebrates 10 Years in Columbus

Ayana Wilson Ayana Wilson Basi Italia Celebrates 10 Years in Columbus
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A visit to Basi Italia today is shockingly similar to a visit a decade ago, which is not something anyone can often say of a restaurant. Sure, the layout has changed over time (a back patio has been added), and the prices have invariably risen, but that quality that has always made Basi special is still very much present, and it’s this thread of consistency that keeps the people coming back for more.

John Dornback and Trish Gentile, the husband and wife team behind the Victorican Village gem, met 13 years ago, married two years later, and produced Basi Italia only one year after that. Dornback is a French Culinary Institute graduate, and when the couple moved together from New York to Columbus, they crazily believed they could open a restaurant based almost solely on Dornback’s talent.

The site they originally chose was 660 North High Street (where the current Happy Greek stands) but obtaining a lease when they had nothing but word-of-mouth to back up their plan proved too difficult. The building at 811 Highland Street had just come available however, and the couple jumped at the opportunity.

A nautical-themed take-out pizza joint at the time, Dornback and Gentile saw the possibilities. With the help of friends and family, and Dornback’s indomitable optimism, Basi Italia opened its doors for the first time on October 12th, 2003.

“It truly was a labor of love,” shares Dornback. “We had family, friends, everyone we knew doing anything we needed – painting, picking out fabrics, it was crazy. But everybody believed in it, so we had this faith from people who wanted to see us do something awesome. We couldn’t let them down.”

Gentile’s background is Italian, so the initial idea for the restaurant’s theme came out of that history. “Basi” is the couple’s take on “basic”, which is exactly what Dorback’s cooking is all about. When they combined those notions with the Sunday dinner parties for which they were known at the time, Basi Italia was born.

Since then, Basi’s success has been built on good word. The Eggplant Parmesan is still a regular fixture on the menu that features few ingredients and simple preparation. Dornback’s penchant for unfussy dishes is a large part of what keeps Basi’s doors open, and that attitude is also reflected in the service you’ll receive.

The staff at Basi Italia is like a family. Dave Kopf has been there eight years and Basi’s General Manager Caitlin Lahr is like a daughter to Gentile and Dornback. There’s even a ghost named Mary who’s been flicking the lights on and off for years. Basi was built on a foundation of dependable people, and it’s what sustains the business today. Both Dornback and Gentile will readily admit to having no idea what they were doing when they started, but they knew if they surrounded themselves with quality folks, everything would be alright.

“Our staff is an extension of us, and they know what it takes,” adds Gentile. “Everything happened so quickly and we’ve been the luckiest people to have it all work out like it did. It’s nice to be nice to people, and it’s the reason we still love doing this every day.”

Despite the fact that there are infrequent pangs of regret that they didn’t enjoy life a little more before jumping off the cliff into restaurant ownership, Dornback and Gentile would have things no other way. They’re always on the lookout for the “right kind of project” as life ambles along at Basi Italia, and anticipate many more years nurturing their most precious enterprise.

Basi Italia has an impressive wine selection and superior hand-crafted cocktails (poured by the inimitable Phil Richardson) to accompany their rustic menu, so whether you’re a regular or you haven’t been in a while, stop in and wish Basi a happy birthday.

For more on their story, visit www.basi-italia.com.

Exterior photo by Mollie Lyman. Staff photos by Craig Ferance.

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