They’d always dreamed of owning a home in Italy, but opening a restaurant there was never part of the plan.
But Dalip and Amber Tibb, who are based in North Carolina, have ended up doing both over the last few years.
The Tibbs, who’ve been married for 18 years, say their love affair with Italy began almost two decades ago, when they took a trip to Venice in 2006.
However, it would be a long while before they could seriously consider the prospect of buying a property in the country.
“So we had a busy life moving around. But we always kind of had the Italian dream still brewing in the background.”
The Tibbs traveled to Italy several times over the years, exploring different regions in order to find the area that would be the right fit once the time came.
They eventually settled on Umbria, which is situated near to Rome.
“We wanted to narrow it down to be close to the Rome [international] airport, because that’s where we fly in and out the most,” explains Amber.
The couple say they began seriously looking for a place in 2019, and came across a listing for a furnished three-bedroom penthouse apartment in a town called Giove in the spring of 2020.
As the global Covid-19 pandemic was in full effect by then, they were unable to travel to Italy to view the apartment beforehand.
But although they hadn’t been to Giove before, the Tibbs say they were familiar with the general area and felt confident that it would be well suited to them.
While the sale took longer than they expected, they used a real estate attorney who specializes in helping people from English-speaking countries, which made the process slightly easier.
The pair went on to purchase the apartment unseen for around 55,000 euros (about $60,500).
Dalip, who is originally from the UK but has lived in the US for nearly 30 years, was able to obtain Italian residency (the sale went through before Brexit was finalized), which would allow the family to stay in Italy for extended periods of time.
The Tibbs were finally able to view their property in June 2021, when travel restrictions relaxed, and say it was even better than they’d expected, particularly due to the incredible views.
“As soon as we arrived, I was like, ‘let me check out the view in the back,’” says Dalip. “And it has a phenomenal view of the Tiber Valley, from the back windows.
“It’s kind of a breathtaking view that no one had really talked about [before].”
The town was buzzing with activity during that first visit, partly due to the extensive renovations taking place on the Castle of Giove, and it occurred to them that some of their family and friends might be interested in purchasing a home in the area as well.
The pair asked a realtor to show them some other properties in the area and ended up viewing a neglected apartment that would later become their restaurant.
“They opened these bolted-up doors that led down some stairs, which led to a really small office suite,” says Dalip, explaining that it clearly hadn’t been used for a while.
“We looked through the windows and it literally looked right across [at] the main doors of the castle.”
Dalip was aware that there was some business activity in the area at the time and felt that this particular spot would be a great place to create something new.
“In the back of my mind, I was thinking of a restaurant, but I was a little embarrassed to tell people that,” he admits.
Feeling inspired, he met with a local architect, who agreed that the space would be an ideal place for a restaurant, and pointed out that the town really needed one.
“They didn’t have one in the downtown area,” he adds.
A few months later, they learned that there was a wine cave in the unit next door that could be connected to the property, and the owner was open to selling it.
“We’ve done some building and renovations together,” explains Dalip. “So, we decided that it would be something that we could do.”
They went on to purchase the apartment for 38,000 euros (around $41,000) and the wine cave for a further 17,000 euros ($18,700) and began making plans to turn them into a restaurant and wine bar.
“We weren’t too worried about the renovation, just because the cost of stuff is relatively low compared to the United States,” says Amber. “So, we knew it wasn’t going to be a giant financial risk.”
They later learned that the building likely dated back to the 1600s. However, many of its defining elements were no longer visible.
“They peeled away a lot of layers and restored some of the original ceilings and wood,” says Amber.
“Because I think around the ’80s, people were covering up [a lot] of Renaissance architecture.”
According to the couple, the renovation process took around a year and a half, and pretty much all of the workers involved, including the craftspeople and the stonemasons, were from the area.
“It ended up being even more work than I anticipated,” says Dalip.
One of the trickiest aspects was transforming the wine cave into a usable space, which involved covering the dirt floor with old terracotta tiles and the bare walls with cement plaster.
While the renovation work was being completed, they found some old wood beams containing wine bottles that dated back to the 1960s.
After sharing their discovery with some locals, the couple learned that the wine storage space had actually been the town’s local wine bar decades before.
“The architect’s father actually used to go there when he was younger,” says Dalip, explaining that it was likely shut down in the mid-1970s.
Although they’d originally planned to lease the restaurant out once it was ready, the pair had a change of heart when they learned that their longtime friend chef Antonio Leo was looking for a new project.
“He’s a brilliant chef,” explains Dalip. “He’s owned and managed his own restaurant for years. And he’s Italian, so it made sense for him to be there.”
Keen to make the most of this window of opportunity, they worked out an agreement that would see Leo become a partner.
“I really didn’t want to be in the restaurant business,” says Dalip. “So I mean, that whole thing just evolved.”
When it came to the overall look of the restaurant, they were keen to create something fresh, while also “paying respect to the age of the building,” and say it took a bit of time to get the balance right.
“That was the challenge: getting sort of a modern feel, but keeping the presence of the old,” notes Amber.
Following many months of work and anticipation, La Chiave dei Sapori, which translates to “The Key to Flavors,” sharing the name of Leo’s former restaurant in Tuscany, opened in May 2023.
The final cost of the renovation came to 170,000 euros (around $186,900) including most of the furniture and the bar.
“It was exhilarating to have it actually open and have the project completed and get all the permits,” says Dal.
“We’ve had phenomenal feedback on the look of the restaurant. So, I think overall, people are happy.”
Castle of Giove, which had been shut down for many years, has also reopened for tours and events, providing the area with another boost.
The Tibbs, who have been detailing their progress on their YouTube channel Our Little Jupiter, recently moved their family from California to the East Coast in order to be slightly closer to their Italian home and restaurant.
Although they plan to move to Italy permanently once their son, aged 12, and daughter, aged nine, are older, the couple say they’ll spend their holidays there for the time being, with Dalip continuing to travel back and forth from the US to check in on the restaurant.
“Every time we leave the apartment, and have to go home,” says Amber. “I get very sad. We’ve just been so embraced by the locals in the community, that you don’t want to leave.”
While the couple feel very comfortable in Giove, they say that the language barrier has been one of the biggest hurdles for them, “as many people do not speak English” in some areas of the region.
“The people are very patient with us,” Amber adds. “But a few of the younger locals get a little frustrated sometimes and they make comments like, ‘Hey, you have to learn the lingo. Hurry up.’
“Because they want to talk to you. They want to invite you to their grandma’s house for dinner. They really want to have you adopt their culture.”
Although it will likely be some time before either of them are fluent, they say they pick up a little more Italian each time they go.
“He [Dalip] understands a lot, but he can’t speak very much,” says Amber, explaining that they’re making plans for their children to begin learning the language.
“I think I can speak more. So between the two of us, we kind of get by.”
Since opening its doors, La Chiave dei Sapori, which serves a blend of Tuscan and Umbrian cuisine, has been welcoming locals, as well as a “smattering of expats and tourists in and around the area.”
The Tibbs are thrilled with the reception it’s receiving, and say the support from the local community has meant a great deal.
“The locals have just been so nice, and they’re just so happy to get a restaurant,” says Amber.
“One woman was teary-eyed. She gave me a big hug and said ‘thank you. Our town deserved a nice restaurant for once.’
“Hopefully it continues to be a success. We’re excited about it. And we wanted a place to come and eat ourselves. So we win [either way].”