By Paul Lonardo
Kenneth Orabona, a lifelong resident of Smithfield, had been in the food service business for twenty-five years when he suddenly found himself out of job earlier this year. For a person as hard-working and industrious as Orabona, it was not easy to get up in the morning and have no place to go. His unemployment status, however, did not last long. The layoff proved to be a blessing in disguise, and Orabona decided to go into businesses for himself.
Opening up his own restaurant had been a goal of Orabona’s for a long time, and the circumstances seemed to favor putting the plans into motion for Kenny O’s Ristorante. Not only did he have the desire and much needed time, he had a talented chef practically in the family.
“I had been looking to do something on my own for the past few years with my future son-in-law, Juan Perez, who is now my executive chef,” Orabona says. “He’s my backbone. He tells me what he needs, and what he wants to serve, and I go out and get it.”
Orabona may be the negotiator and brains on the business end of the venture, but Perez, is the creative talent behind the operation. Like Orabona, Perez is a self-made man, who was a teen when started out in the business as a dishwasher. But he harbored a dream and a desire to become a chef.
“One day, Juan told his boss that he was leaving because he wanted to learn how to cook,” Orabona says. “He said that he wasn’t going to wash dishes for the rest of his life, and when he was given the opportunity, he showed a genuine knack and a desire to learn, and the rest is history.”
Perez worked his way up, gaining experience in a variety of settings, including some of the finer restaurants in Rhode Island. He worked at Luigi’s in Johnston for nearly eight years, and was the assistant food service director at the West Shore Health Center. Perez is now the full-time executive chef at Kenny O’s, which opened for business on April 20.
“My thing is; everything has to be fresh,” Orabona says. “We don’t use any processed products. We scratch-make everything.”
Breakfast is particularly special for the staff of Kenny O’s because they create the whole menu.
“The breakfast item that is probably most special to us is our omelets, because they are monstrous. Number two would be our homemade corned beef hash, which everybody loves. At lunch it’s our burgers. We have set burger items as well as build-your-own options, with single, double or triple patties cooked to your liking with whatever toppings you want. Our dinner menu is second to none, with fresh scallops, swordfish and salmon. We serve prime rib three nights a week. We do a mixed grill with seasonable fresh vegetables.” We are also featuring some new entrees with a Mediterranean flare to our menu.
Not only is Orabona meticulous about making the food fresh daily by hand from all-natural ingredients, but he also buys everything from local vendors. All their beef and pork comes from Smithfield’s Blackbird Farms. They are partnered with Stamp Farm for all their eggs. Baffoni Poultry Farm now supplies all the chicken for Kenny O’s dinner service. They use Wright’s Farm for all their milk and dairy. Their produce is delivered fresh every day from local farms, as well.
Trying to find the perfect location was important, of course, but Orabona also needed to consider a building that did not require a large capital outlay to refurbish. And he found just what he was looking for at 970 Douglas Pike, in the plaza near Route 116. When the opportunity to open a turn-key operation presented itself, he couldn’t pass it up. With little too advertising, relying solely on word of mouth and social media, business has been very good.
“The return on investment and reaction from the people in the area since we opened has been fantastic,” Orabona says. “Better than I imagined at this stage.”
The food is undoubtedly fresh and delicious, and the word on the street is that the portions are generous and reasonably priced. You can enjoy a full bar, with wine selections by the bottle and by the glass, in additional to all the top shelf alcohol and spirits. For breakfast you can enjoy a refreshing mimosa or Bloody Mary.
Right now, Kenny O’s is open for breakfast Tuesday through Saturday, and serving dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. On Sunday, they are open for breakfast until 2 pm, with dinner starting at 4:30. They can accommodate parties of any size with advance notice, and on their off days, and hours when they are usually closed, they can fully service private functions.
Orabona is always looking ahead for ways he can better serve the public, and plans to go into catering for the holidays. “We’ll also be doing off-premises catering,” Orabona says. “And there will be outdoor seating available for patrons in June, before our Grand Opening, which is scheduled to be held on Saturday, June 2. ”
There will be a ribbon-cutting with town officials on hand, and restaurant specials that the whole family can enjoy. But before then, come in and check out Kenny O’s to find out for yourself what all that buzz is about. The exceptional quality of the food and portion size of the meals is what you’ll come away from Kenny O’s with, along with a full, satisfied belly.
To find out more call 401-214-2900 or visit their facebook page at Kenny-Os-Ristorante.