Saving Bruno's Forno

A loyal customer invests his life savings in lasagna.

Photo: odeelo dayondon

By the time you read this, Mix Cafe may be gone.

Ever since Bruno lezzi opened his first Mix Cafe on Beretania Street in 2007, we’ve been smitten with his eateries. From his sandwiches at Mix Cafe to the lasagna at Bruno’s Forno, Iezzi demonstrates perfection through simplicity. He’s a stickler for details, making his own pasta, sauces and even some of the breads.

But all that—the perfectionism that makes him unable to entrust his eateries to anyone other than his wife—meant he was behind the counter every day at Mix Cafe (and she at Bruno’s Forno), and it’s taken a toll. He’s closing up shop.

Bruno’s Forno, however, will remain open—under new management. In October 2013, Iezzi began a dialogue with Zoran Milanovic, a customer who was originally only interested in finding out more about making homemade pasta.

“Bruno has a pasta machine in the back [of Bruno’s Forno] and I had some questions about the process,” Milanovic says. “But then I heard about the restaurant itself closing down, and everything changed.”

Milanovic, originally from Serbia, moved to Hawaii in 2012 as an information-technology specialist with Kamehameha Schools. One night, he went with some friends to pick up dinner from Bruno’s Forno.

“I fell in love with this café,” says Milanovic. “The lasagna, the décor, all of it. It’s too cute. I started coming to eat here almost weekly.”

Over the course of his regular visits, Milanovic met Iezzi and wife, Kim Induck. They talked about the food, the customers and the process of running a business. Iezzi explained his desire to begin winding down, but added that he didn’t want to see Bruno’s Forno close. He wanted someone to take the business over, but he didn’t want to give it to “just anybody.”

“The restaurant was special to him and [Iezzi] wanted to see it stay open with an owner who cared,” Milanovic says. “After the weeks we spent talking about the business, Bruno said he wanted me to have the restaurant if I was interested.”

In late 2013, as Milanovic considered taking over Bruno’s Forno, the option came to renew his work contract with Kamehameha Schools. After almost a year of freelancing, they offered him a full-time position with higher pay.

“The job and the company are good,” says Milanovic, “but I had to ask myself, should I be an office worker all my life? I wanted something more, and I always had a passion for food. It was time.”

Milanovic turned down the job, and over the next couple of months, he learned the ropes of running Bruno’s Forno from owners Iezzi and Induck. On Feb. 1, the restaurant was his.

The new owners of Bruno’s Forno have no experience in the restaurant business, although they are familiar with logistics. Milanovic has worked in IT for more than a decade for companies including Citigroup, while his wife Yuya formerly specialized in finance for Morgan Stanley. Before moving to Hawai‘i two years ago, they lived and worked in New York, London and Japan.

“It is a risk; I’ve invested my life savings into Bruno’s Forno and I want it to succeed,” says Milanovic, whose plans for the restaurant include not only expanding to evening hours, but also catering and making their homemade pasta and lasagnas available at local grocery stores. He hopes to make food for families who are busy working full time, with children going to school, and who still care about wholesome meals prepared with fresh ingredients.

Says Milanovic, “[We] are excited about continuing the tradition: creating great food for great customers.”

Bruno’s Forno, 1120 Maunakea St., 585-2845