In 1996, shortly after Rosalie's Cucina first opened in Skaneateles, Marc Albino applied to work at the Tuscan-style restaurant.
He didn't get the job.
Albino then enrolled in cooking school. After graduating, he returned to Rosalie's, where he started as a sous chef in 2003. Why did he want to return to a place that had initially rejected him?
"It's a staple in the community. There's nothing better around," Albino said.
As of Jan. 1, after 16 years working at the restaurant, Albino has taken full ownership. And his most important goal, he said, is preserving the legacy that's made it such a popular destination in the community.
Most recently a managing partner following time as general manager and executive chef, Albino is taking over the restaurant from longtime owner Gary Robinson, who will remain on as a consulting partner.
Just about any chef will tell you they want to own a restaurant someday, Albino said, and this is his time to do so. Robinson, meanwhile, said he was more than confident leaving the business in Albino's hands.
"He's an outstanding chef, he's a great leader and he's got an eye for everything in the restaurant. Everything," Robinson said. "For the last 10 years, he's basically run the show anyway. It was time for him to own and operate a restaurant, there's no doubt about that."
Albino said the menu won't change at all — especially not Rosalie's signature seared scallop dish. The wine list will see additions, particularly fine vintages from Tuscany, and some light decor changes might be made.
The most important change will be in staffing, although customers might not even notice it.
In one of his first acts as owner, Albino promoted Lisa Alibrandi, a server for 14 years, to restaurant manager. When the search began for a new manager, Albino said Alibrandi was "a shining light."
"She knows the customers, she knows the menu, she knows the systems. She's fantastic, she really is," Albino said. "If there was an issue, people were already going to her, so it just seemed like a natural fit."
Patrick Crowley also recently joined the team as a bar manager, Albino said, and has "certainly stepped up service at the bar," introducing a draft craft beer system, new wines and signature cocktails like a grapefruit martini that's proven popular.
"I like grapefruit, but I was skeptical," Albino said. "It's fantastic."
Despite the new additions, Albino said he hopes to maintain the same ethic of the restaurant's namesake, Rosalie Romano, that made it so successful in the first place.
The sister of well-known restaurateur Philip Romano, founder of the Fuddrucker's and Romano's Macaroni Grill chains, Rosalie asked her brother to build her a restaurant for herself.
However, Rosalie developed cancer shortly after the restaurant's opening, and died after a year of operating it. Although he never met her personally, Albino said he knows from much of the longer-serving staff that the standards the business still practices — namely that the customers are always first — came from her.
"My understanding is she was an absolutely wonderful person," Albino said, noting that the restaurant's walls are covered in signatures from guests that symbolize a donation made in her name to the American Cancer Society's Coaches vs. Cancer program. "People loved her, customers loved her, the staff loved her," Albino added.
With Rosalie's original standards in mind, Albino said he was thrilled about the chance to take ownership, and is especially happy to be able to continue cooking for the many familiar faces that visit.
"I maybe would say the highlight of this for me is I get to work with people I've worked with for years," Albino said. "I get to cook with people I've known and cooked with for years, and keep the Rosalie's legacy alive as she would have it."