Gourmet Italia restaurant in Temecula turns 20

Gourmet Italia owner Alex Prestifilippo celebrated his restaurant's 20th anniversary on Oct. 16.

Gourmet Italia celebrated 20 years of serving up Italian food in Temecula’s Tower Plaza Oct. 16.

Patrons were treated to the restaurant’s original menu prices and entertainment from some of the same live bands that have played music for guests for the last two decades.

The Italian restaurant was founded by Alex Prestifilippo in 1999 and has expanded from a 1,000-square-foot eatery back then to a more-than-7,000-square-foot establishment today.

Prestifilippo, who is originally from Sicily, said he emigrated to the United States in 1996, first ending up in Orange County and starting out as a busboy.

“Three and a half years later, I had a chance to discover this beautiful town,” he said.

At that time he started Gourmet Italia, it was just a 1,000-square-foot eatery next to a bar.

Today, it has grown to more than 7,000 square feet — eventually taking over the bar that was originally next door.

“In 20 years, I have expanded and moved things around,” Prestifilippo said. “When we started, it was only on one side, and then we opened up on the right and then the wine bar.”

In 2003, Prestifilippo purchased property in De Luz and began growing wine to be sold in his restaurant. He eventually purchased four other properties to put vineyards on.

“Today, we have about 24 acres planted,” he said. “We produce about 3,000 cases of wine with 14 different labels, mostly varieties from Italy.”

In addition to being his restaurant, Gourmet Italia is also a different kind of special for Prestifilippo and his family — it’s the place where he and his wife met.

“I met him here as a customer. I ordered the clams with linguini and I asked for parmesan cheese, and he said ‘no, signora, we don’t put parmesan on the seafood’ and I said, ‘yeah, we do,’” Charity Prestifilippo said. “We kind of argued about that and I got my way, and so then I fell in love with the food and him, and I found my way back here and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Charity and Alex Prestifilippo met at Gourmet Italia in 2000. They married two years later.

The Prestifilippos married in 2002, and today have a blended family of two sons and a daughter.

Gourmet Italia isn’t the Prestifilippos’ only business venture — they also own Spuntino’s Pizzeria Italia on Rancho California Road and “because I don’t stop working,” Alex said, they are opening up a new business in Old Town called Bottega Italia, which will serve coffee, pizza, wine and “everything you love about Italy,” he said. That store is scheduled to open sometime in Spring 2020.

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com