Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort played host to the second annual National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) gala as it honored Chef Joey Maggiore, The Maggiore Group and the Maggiore family for its devotion to Italian culture and heritage, and for all that they have collectively done for Arizona’s Italian American community and culinary landscape.   

The unforgettable evening started with cocktails and appetizers during sunset on the sprawling Spire Lawn. The evening then melted into the night with dinner in the Grand Ballroom featuring an outstanding menu curated by Joey Maggiore and a live auction benefiting Childhelp and NIAF, all hosted by Dame Clarissa Burt.   

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Those who have lived in the Valley for any length of time most likely know of The Maggiore Group Restaurants — The Sicilian Butcher, Hash Kitchen, The Sicilian Baker and The Mexicano. Co-founded by celebrity chef Joey Maggiore, his wife Cristina Maggiore and their partner, Flora Tersigni, each concept is tantalizing to the taste buds, permeated with Italian tradition and designed to instantly make you feel like family. That is the Maggiore Family magic.   

Perhaps more than any other gala in recent memory, the curated menu played the paramount role in engaging guests and showcasing the delicious legacy of the Maggiore Family. The antipasto of mozzarella and prosciutto caprese was exceptional. It was followed by a three-meat ragu fazzoletti and main entrée selections of Sicilian spiedini, grilled Sicilian sausage and chicken scarpariello. Dessert was courtesy of The Sicilian Baker and included sfogliatella, Italian cookies, cannoli and cassatina.  

Many NIAF members, family friends, diehard foodie fans and other high-profile members of the community were also in attendance to honor Joey Maggiore and the Maggiore Family. Fellow celeb chefs Gio Oso and Beau MacMillan joined the festivities.

Additionally, Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone had the honor of presenting Joey and Cristina Maggiore with one of the evening’s honoree awards. “Their family and ours are very close,” Penzone tells AZ Big Media. “I think it’s wonderful to get a chance to recognize him and Cristina for what they’ve done in our community. It’s about passion. It’s about culture. It’s about the Italian heritage. And just like his restaurants, it’s about the food, the family, the environment and enjoying each other. So, it’s a fun night and we’re excited to be part of it.” 

Pete Melucci, NIAF Southwest regional vice president, was glad to see the regional gala celebrating its second year. “We brought the gala back last year, so we were super excited because we weren’t doing anything here,” Melucci explains of the pandemic years. “You have to understand… In New York, they sell this out instantaneously, $1,000 a ticket.” Since so many Italians immigrated and primarily came to the U.S. through Ellis Island, there is a larger concentration of Italian Americans back East than in the West, where he estimates they only account for 4% of the population. 

“We’re trying to bring back the culture,” Melucci says of the work of NIAF. “Everyone loves Italian people, right? And Italian people love everyone. I haven’t seen many cultures that take in others…” That observation holds true with the Maggiore Family and carries on to the guests in its restaurants.  

Melucci adds, “Joey is an incredible human being, like right off the bat. I moved out here in 1997 and his father was already a legend with the restaurant on 32nd and Camelback. Everybody knows it, even the people from the East Coast knew there wasn’t a lot of food out West in the ‘90s, but if you go to Tomaso’s, it will be like back home. 

“Joey idolizes, worships his father,” Melucci continues. “The best analogy I can use — His father laid the foundation and Joey is building the house, the empire.” 

Being in the presence of Joey will immediately brighten anyone’s day, and true to form, he was enthusiastically greeting guests and smiling ear-to-ear when he arrived at the cocktail reception. When asked about receiving an honoree award, he was immediately beaming with pride. “As an Italian boy, that’s like an Oscar, right!?” he exclaims. “It’s exciting. It reminds me of my childhood and my dad, and he received this award 22 years ago. So, the whole circle comes around, which is amazing.” 

When asked what his late father, Tomas Maggiore would say on this momentous night receiving the same award decades later, Joey laughs and says, “He would go, ‘Oh brother… Put your chains away! Change your shoes!’ No, I’m kidding… He would be honored, and to see his son get it, it’s exciting.” 

Providing a glimpse into the future of the Maggiore culinary empire, Joey says, “We’ve got eight Hash [Kitchens] opening in four states, and two [Sicilian] Butchers lined up, so we’re really going to expand. It’s going to be good.” In the Valley, new restaurant concepts The Italiano and The Rosticceria will be opening soon. 

During the gala, NIAF honored Melissa Maggiore Meyer, who is at the helm of restaurant The Italian Daughter, and family patriarch and matriarch Tomas and Patricia Maggiore who founded iconic Valley restaurant Tomaso’s back in 1977. Fond memories and fun stories of the family were shared throughout the gala.   

The evening also honored an organization of Italian American businessmen that supports the Italian American heritage in the City of Phoenix known as the Founders, whose members include legendary Valley sportscaster, Jude LaCava.  

NIAF’s scholarship and educational programs were the beneficiaries of the live auction run by Kelee Lee Walton. Additionally, nonprofit Childhelp was the local beneficiary of proceeds from the auction that included jewelry from Isaac Jewelry, a 10-day tour of Italy auctioned by Perillo Tours, a private suite at the Footprint Center and a helicopter ride and lunch with Sheriff Paul Penzone. Entertainment for the evening was provided by master accordion artist Guido A. Lavorata and DJ Iceman.  

For additional information on the National Italian American Foundation and how you can join or get involved, visit