Growing up in the town of Palermo in Sicily, Italy, Francesco Inguaggiato developed a love for cooking traditional Sicilian food while working with his mother at his grandfather’s Trattoria Bellino. As much as he carried a passion for cooking, Francesco played professional basketball for 18 years in Italy before coming to Texas and embarking on a culinary journey that would bring the authentic taste of Italian food to the Gulf Coast Capital.

Over 20 years ago, after Francesco retired from his professional basketball career, he and his wife, Susan, moved to Texas to rebuild their life in Corpus Christi, Susan’s hometown. When they first arrived, Francesco was still in basketball mode and was looking to become a coach. Instead, he and Susan ended up starting multiple businesses in the culinary industry. From a catering company called Buon Appetito to the first Bellino in Rockport, this venture into owning a restaurant would soon propel the Inguaggiatos into culinary excellence and lead them to open not just one, but two successful dining locations in Corpus Christi: Bellino Ristorante Italiano e Bottega and Nueces Whiskey Library

“The word bellino means ‘cute,’” explains Francesco. “It’s also my mother’s maiden name.”


Naming his restaurant Bellino isn’t just to pay homage to his mother. His arsenal of culinary skills also comes from learning her style of cooking, and his recipes are inspired by her and the family’s love of Italian cuisine.  

“I didn’t go to culinary school,” says Francesco. “I earned my honorary culinary degree when my mother had guests over at the house and she had me running the show. She had that confidence in me.”

Equipped with the skills taught by his mother, the knowledge from traveling around the world, and fueled by a passion for cooking, Francesco had the right tools to run a restaurant.  

Now, he imparts this knowledge and passion for Italian food to his staff. He explains that Italy is one of the few countries in the world with regional cuisine. There are dishes that are specific to Sicily, Naples, and Tuscany to name a few, and each one has distinctive flavors.  


“I like to educate my staff on the story for every dish,” he explains. “It helps connect them to the food.”  

Francesco is Sicilian, so the menu carries heavy Sicilian flavors, but it is an Italian restaurant, so he serves food from different regions. Since each dish has its own story, origin, and flavor profile, the entire menu is a delicious learning experience for everyone.  

Both Francesco and Susan agree that the best things in life happen with a little sacrifice, and owning a restaurant is a tough business, from permits and menu options to getting the community to trust you and try your food. When you have the passion and love for sharing good food with the community, success is possible. They began with only a small dining room 12 years ago, but they have since grown, even adding the Bellino Bar, a full-service bar with a variety of wines to compliment the delicious Italian fare on the menu.  


After running the catering company, Buon Appetito, in Rockport, the Inguaggiatos agree that running a restaurant is a much bigger challenge, but they enjoy the idea of having the customer dine in their restaurant that was created to give the experience of feeling like they’re at an extension of their own home.  

“We know our regulars by name, their favorite dishes, and their preferred wine,” says Francesco. 

Bellino has won “Best Italian Restaurant” for The Bend Magazine’s Local’s List four times since 2019.  

The Inguaggiatos love to travel, and visiting bigger cities meant making unique discoveries. When they found upscale and elegant, yet cozy places to grab a drink, they decided to bring a similar concept to Corpus Christi, so they created Nueces Whiskey Library. This new kind of library has an old-world vibe, like a speakeasy. The unique ambiance has a lounge, a dining room, and a bar, offering plenty of comfort. The best part is that it’s just a few doors down from Bellino.  

Although Nueces Whiskey Library has only been around for a little over a year, Francesco is considering another culinary venture – Mamma Lina. This concept, also named after his mother, will feature a new menu with comfort food in a casual dining setting. The location will be connected to Bellino and could possibly open Spring 2024.