The restaurant Lisa Tassone opened in 2003, La Zingara, aptly shares a name with Verdi’s 1845 song featuring a young girl with a fun-loving, carefree, traveling spirit. It’s an Italian nickname (closest English translation is “gypsy girl”) that her family gave her when she returned from travel to her hometown of Beacon, NY.
The Bethel resident lived in Colorado for a while where, after studying pre-med in college, she worked in restaurants to raise money for her trips.
"I would work in restaurants to save up all my money, quit and travel, go back to work [where] they’d give me a raise, and then I’d go home to my family. They would say, ‘Oh. Here you are, La Zingara,’” she recounted.
Born in Yonkers and raised in Beacon, Lisa attended the University of Colorado in Boulder. "I wanted to do herbal medicine. That was my original path. It was hard. I was working two jobs to pay for college. I was 12 credits short of finishing. Back then, herbal medicine wasn’t recognized. So I wanted to get a biology degree.”
Tassone had grown up in the restaurant space and, ultimately, working in the business after college drew her back in.
“Both my parents were born in Italy. My father is from Calabria. My mother is from Piedmont.”
After immigrating to the US, Tassone’s father settled in Yonkers, NY. Years later, he opened a deli when the family moved to Beacon, NY.
Her grandfather had a farm upstate. “We were raised eating things (and animals) grown. You saw the whole food industry.”
“Before the whole farm-to-table thing, my dad had a piece of property up in Pleasant Valley and I used to grow all the vegetables, organize, and have the tractor. It’s exhausting and the biggest thing I’m proud of."
Tassone’s wandering appeal comfortably morphed into a desire to be part of a community where her work-family life could intersect. A year after opening La Zingara at P.T. Barnum Square, she bought a house close by. It's an ideal situation for her daughters, Aurelia, 14, and Piera, 12. It’s small for “three girls” but she likes the location.
"I don’t mind being so close even now that my kids are older. This weekend was a little crazy,” she said in the conversation after a busy holiday weekend. “They can walk down and have dinner," Tassone said.
Before opening La Zingara, Tassone didn’t know of Bethel. “I was lucky enough that my sister said, ‘There’s a restaurant in Bethel,’” referring to San Miguel, the restaurant formerly in La Zingara’s location. Before that, she’d been looking at a location in New Paltz to open her own restaurant. “I just fell in love with the charm of [Bethel’s] downtown, I wanted a walking community."
La Zingara features regional Italian cuisine that drew pleasing descriptors in a New York Times review like, “Rigatoni alla Buttera: fresh-tasting marinara that was delicately applied — as if by paintbrush — to a platter of rigatoni, with crumbled sausage, green peas and a sprinkling of Parmesan.”
La Zingara hosts @Betheljazz organized and run by Thomas Carruthers on Wednesday evenings, and once in a while on Thursdays as well if a special performer is in town. You can get more information here.
In 2012, La Zingara needed more party space and expanded, which took the place of their outdoor patio. Wanting to maintain some outdoor seating, and inspired by the many Italian rooftop patios she had seen in her travels, Tessone decided to create one above La Zingara, now called Vesta Rooftop Kitchen. “The focus is our woodfired oven, bringing the same quality food to a more casual fare.”
Tassone describes her staff, many of whom have been with her for many years, as being like a family. The front house manager has been working at La Zingara since it opened, they have had the same dishwasher for 19 years, and the head chef nearly as long. They have servers who have been on staff for 15 years, she said.
"We’ve been together for so long. We were single. We were married. They had kids. The kids were raised. This past Memorial Day they came over to my house. The kids were here throwing water balloons. In this business, you give up time and your life with your family for the social occasions for other people but you’re like a family," she said.
It's easy for her to wax nostalgic looking back on her career. Tassone has customers who were in the restaurant on their first dates who now visit with their children.
“Their kids are doing their graduations here, so it is not only being part of other families but the families in the business among each other, and it's such a rarity. You know. You have each other’s back.”
“I appreciate sharing time with our team and seeing our individual families grow. Likewise, seeing our customers through all phases of life over the past 20 years, sharing the joyous and special occasions, growth, and really even appreciating being able to comfort our customers through the more difficult times, literally and figuratively feeding their souls. This is something I value as being part of this community for so long.”
To take a look at some of the dishes that come out of La Zingara's kitchen, find them on Instagram at @lazingararestaurant.