In 1955 a young married couple, Raymond & Anne left Milford, Delaware to live 11 months in Livorno, Italy. Raymond was stationed at Camp Darby with the U.S.Army. Little did they realize this military move and third story apartment they rented would lead to a friendship/family which now is into the 4th generation. Vasco (a professor at the University of Pisa) and Lily (a strong Tuscan wife, teacher and mother) Cortesi with their 9 year old son Pierluigi became the family Raymond and Anne were missing so very much in the United States The Bencini’s (Mama & Papa to Anne & Raymond) lived on the 1st and 2nd floors below the American couple, while Vasco’s family lived in a cottage within the garden. There was a gated entrance and stone wall surrounding the entire property. The 11 months stay in Livorno would turn out to be one of the most special Blessings Raymond and Anne would experience in their 49 years of marriage. Days with the Cortesi family and bathing on the beautiful Mediterranean beaches of Livorno were comparable to none. After returning home to the states the friendship continued. In 1971 Pierluigi, now 25 years old came to the United States to visit his American Family for Christmas. By this time Vasco and Lily had another son born, Pier Francessco and Raymond and Anne had a daughter Lisa who was 12, meeting her “Italian olderbrother” for the first time. What a wonderful relationship this would be come.In 1980 Raymond and Anne for their 25TH Wedding Anniversary traveled back to Livorno to visit the much missed Cortesi family. Mama & Papa had now passed away but Pierluigi was now 32 years old and married to Gea. They had a beautiful 2-year-old daughter,Alice. Pier Francesco was now growing up and living on his own. What a reunion!!! Lisa was back in the states attending Centenary College in Hackettstown, New Jersey.
In 1984, Pierluigi and Gea came to visit with now 6-year-old Alicia. The 3rd generation had now begun. After returning to Livorno, Arianna was born to Pierluigi & Gea. Pier Francesco was now married to Frederica.Communication continued between the Italian and American families over the years. Lisa married Walton Johnson, III (Poncho) in 2000 and their son, Colby was born in 2002. Families grew with the 4th generationbeing born while Vasco, Lily and Raymond had gone home to heaven. Their memories now became such an important and cherished part of this legacy.
In 2016 Anne, Lisa, Poncho and Colby (now 14 yearsold) traveled to Livorno to visit their Italian family. What a reunion and trip this turned out to be. So many faces to meet for the first time. Pier Francesco, Alicia and Francesco (Alicia’s husband), 6-year-old Flora (Alicia & Francesco’s daughter). Arianna, Guido (Arianna’s husband) and Alessandro (Arianna & Guido’s new son). For 15 days the families toured, ate, laughed and cried over many new and old memories. When it came time to leave the parting was too difficult to even imagine.
Who knew that this trip would leave more than a memory to be cherished. Once home in the United States Lisa, Poncho & Colby couldn’t let go of what a wonderful experience they had with their Italian family and the beauty, culture, wines, food and awesomeness of Tuscany. Back in the United States since 2006 The Johnson’s had entertained many guests in their home atSunset Cove for fundraising events, weddings, partiesetc.… never charging anyone. In 2016, Colby’s dream of a pool became a reality. Then God turned the entireback yard into a tropical oasis. After investigating if they could make entertaining a business “Benvenuto” (the Italian word for “Welcome”) was born. Over the next 4 years Sunset Cove hosted many weddings, fundraising events, and parties. With guest attending from all over the world. All the foods were made from scratch by Lisa, Poncho and sometimes Chef Jesuswith attention to detail being a priority. Very often guests would ask the Johnson’s if they would ever entertain the idea of opening a restaurant. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a restaurant that would replicate Tuscany in America? In January 2019, an opportunity became available to make this Tuscan experience a realty. After many prayers, asking for the Lord’s direction, Lisa and Poncho made the decision to move forward with “Benvenuto” Restaurant. A space at 249 North East Front Street was available but would require a lot of reconstruction and God’s direction of exactly what it should become and represent. As manyof you know when ideas and endeavors are from God,things become very clear, very fast. It is as if you have to run to keep up. That is exactly what happened with Benvenuto. As walls came tumbling down the vision of Tuscany came alive. The décor would focus on a tour through Tuscany visiting 4 villages, cities – Bolgheri, Lucca, Livorno and Firenze (Florence). Walking through the restaurant, guests should feel as if they are in these special destinations. The Food (Oh my, the food!!!) would be all made from scratch with fresh ingredients which is what Tuscan food is all about. And, Oh my, the wines, will come from the best wineries in Tuscany and Italy. To make this all happen God would have to be in control, and it became evident very soon that he was. Chef Jesus was brought into the Johnson’s lives 4 years ago, and upon the first meeting everyone knew this was a special relationship. Poncho & Lisa contacted Chef Jesus, and asked if he would consider becoming a part of this exciting endeavor,uprooting him and his wife Renee from their Philadelphia area home to move to Delaware. After several visits, discussions and yes, lots of prayer, Chefannounced he felt that this was an opportunity brought by God. He and his wife, (Renee) decided to move forward in this adventure to make Milford, Delaware,their new home.
Over the next month’s plans were developed, demolition continued, and “Benvenuto” Restaurant started becoming a reality. Excitement was in the air and everyone seemed to enjoy playing a part in creating this new Tuscan dining destination. The focus was to be a place where everyone wanted to come,experience the foods and atmosphere and can’t wait to return. The menu would be very approachable in price and palate, always emphasizing fresh and homemade. “We want everyone to feel like this is their home, away from home.
Attention to detail and relationship building with our guests will be a priority.”
With a little less that 2 months until we open, we can say this is and has been a wonderful, and yes,sometimes frustrating journey with both
tears and laughter. This space has been blessed and anointed twice and will be blessed, anointed and dedicated totally to our
Lord before Benvenuto opens. Our hope for everyone who enters, is that they feel the love and special relationship that
we have experienced with our Tuscan family only by the Grace of God. “ Buon Appetito! ”