A Culinary Legacy
Sustainability pioneer Kevin Fonzo sells K Restaurant but plans to stay in Orlando and focus on various ventures.
Fonzo with Chef Emeril Lagasse at the recent opening of the Lagasse Foundation Kitchen House.
Last Saturday I got a phone call from Chef Kevin Fonzo of K Restaurant and Wine Bar.
“Heads up,” he said. “I sold K restaurant.”
Fonzo has been a guiding light in Orlando’s local and sustainable food movement since he took over the kitchen of Café Allegre, where I first talked to him nearly 20 years ago. In 2001 he bought the space, renaming it K (“My first idea was Kevin On Earth,” he told me) and planting the seeds of responsible dining in the area.
Fonzo is a New York boy and restless by nature; his brief empire-building endeavors included taking over a nearby restaurant space from Armando Martorelli and renaming it Nonna Trattoria, and opening a small wine bar next to the K space and calling it K2. The three became one in 2010 when Fonzo combined operations at what we now know as K.
As early as last year, Fonzo told me that he was casting an eye toward the future. His lease on K was up in two years and “anything can happen.” What happened, unfortunately, was the loss of Fonzo’s parents, Carol and former NYC police officer Frank, in 2015. “They gave me the money for this place,” Fonzo says. “It was their wish that when they passed to use it to help my siblings’ kids—there are seven of them—go to college.”
Fonzo’s dedication and success brought recognition via several "Best Chef: South" nominations from the James Beard Foundation (he’s cooked at the James Beard kitchen three times), and awards from every regional publication, including entry into the Orlando magazine Dining Hall of Fame.
K’s new owner, Chad Phelps, is a local chef and owner of C&S Culinary Services. He assures Fonzo that the K name will be in place for at least a year, and kitchen and serving staff will remain. “Rocky will still be here,” Fonzo promised me, referring to 2017 Dining Hall of Fame inductee Anthony “Rocky” Mazza, a popular waiter at the restaurant.
Over the past few years Fonzo has shifted his focus from educating diners to teaching kids, opening the Emeril Lagasse Foundation Kitchen House & Culinary Garden at Orlando Junior Academy, with the help of the Emeril Lagasse Foundation and Florida Hospital. He will continue to instruct the children of OJA and others, but his attention also will be on his own educational foundation, world culinary tours that he’s been conducting for several years, and starting up a company called Kevin Fonzo Enterprises.
He says his heart is in Orlando and he will stay. “Heck,” he says, “I might even have time to eat in a restaurant that’s not my own.”