There’s much more to Tony Ramadani, the owner of , than a hardworking restaurant entrepreneur. A man who has worked within and with Wiltonians for 25 years, Ramadani is private person who, through hard work and determination, has quietly given back to the Wilton community thanks to a sense of humanism he learned from his father and family.
“Nothing came easily to me—I’ve had to work very hard for everything,” he said, brushing fingers over his long, dark blonde pony tail. “I had a very strict father, and he expected us to work hard for everything.” Ramadani was born in Albania and left behind his entire family to come to the United States at the age of 16, braving the journey alone and with only a few dollars in his pocket. Perhaps that same family gave Ramadani a morality which includes an active philanthropy.
“The best part of making money is helping others out when you can,” he said.
Ramadani is modest about his efforts to help single moms in need of support, and so he lends a hand quietly. He has been known to freely lend out an apartment in Wilton for single mothers going through rough times.
“I was fortunate that I had that apartment available when the need came around. How can I not help these moms, and their children? Wilton has been very good to me. I go back over 25 years with many of the Wilton residents; I’ve made some really great friends here, and I’m lucky that I’m in the position to help out a little bit,” he said.
“What I do is not really a big deal – the big deal is really how brave these moms can be. Everybody needs a little help sometimes,” said Ramadani.
The fire which decommissioned Portofino’s for over a year hasn’t stopped him at all; he expects the restaurant to reopen soon, with new inside modeling. He also hinted that some zoning problems had stalled the building process.
“We did change the inside a lot. I decided to go with all wood. But, the zoning issues were stemming from the outside - hopefully, I’ll be open for business in a couple of weeks,” he said.
Ramadani grew up in a close-knit family and an altogether good childhood. His father was enlisted to fight in the Yugoslavian war and ended up being captured for six years in a German prison camp which brought tough times for the Ramadanis.
“I was very close to my mom and dad, and, of course my brothers and sisters, too,” he said. “We didn’t have a lot of money, but we managed with what we had. My father expected us to work hard, and I learned to appreciate every penny that I earned."
"When my father went away to fight in the Yugoslavian war, we struggled quite a bit with little to eat, but we were always much more concerned about my dad. During the war he was captured and placed in a German camp. He came back a changed man, with lots of horrible stories to tell us. I still get the chills when I think about all the atrocities he was forced to witness. It was really bad for him,” said Ramadani.
Yet his father’s imprisonment had in some way a positive impact on young Ramadani. It taught him resilience and the value of honesty.
“[My father] was a good man, with good morals and values – he learned of his own strength while in the camp, and his courage passed over to me through his stories. It also taught me that you have to be strong in the world, and that sometimes you need to fight harder when things get a bit tough. My dad had to be a pretty mentally strong guy to survive that camp. He was there for six years. I’d like to think that his stories taught me to play hard at work, but to always be fair.”
Ramadani’s work ethic has taken him far. The setback of Portofino’s temporary shuttering certainly wasn’t the first time Ramadani faced a hurdle.
“It’s my nature to play hard, but I’m not a big risk taker. Maybe that’s hurt me, but I’m grateful that I’ve managed to play hard but not without a cushion to catch unpredictable pitfalls. I’ve made my share of mistakes. Back in 1978-79, I took a serious beating on a building, and my old partner and I lost our shirts. But, I was able to bounce back with hard work. I have a new restaurant in Danbury that’s doing well, and I just bought the property where the roller skating rink used to be. I’ve always played it safe and stayed somewhat reserved.”
So, how would Ramadani define himself and the reasons for his success?
“I waited a long time before settling down, and I think it’s important to define myself first as a great husband and dad. I work very hard, and I’m very ambitious. I’m also very introspective. I understand how to work well with people, and I listen well. I try to be honest and to be the best person that I can be,” he said.