Val Morano Sagliocco is talking about his trip to Istanbul at Lago Ristorante & Wine Bar in the Silver Lake section of Harrison — one of the many food and landscaping businesses for which he serves as president.
Though he likes to splurge on good food, good wine and good accommodations, he’s by no means a cosseted traveler. Rather, he’s an adventurer, even when the adventure puts him in the line of fire.
In 2013, he and a surgeon friend arrived in Istanbul and inadvertently found themselves in the midst of protests against the retail development of the city’s Taksim Gezi Park, for which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan awarded contracts to his friends.
“It would be like Mayor Bill de Blasio giving his friends the rights to develop Central Park,” Sagliocco says over one of his famous five-hour lunches with WAG; Lisa Morano, his aunt and business manager; and Samantha Hochman, his marketing director.
Traveling under an Italian passport — Sagliocco has dual citizenship and speaks the language fluently — he and his travel companion found themselves in a cab with a driver who spoke only Turkish but nonetheless managed to communicate that their hotel was on the other side of the protest. After making their way there, the two realized it wasn’t to their liking and found better accommodations.
The next day, they checked out the scene in Taksim Square. Riot police stood about the square in what Sagliocco describes as more of a watchful than aggressive manner. Protest leaders and burnt cars lined the entrance to the park, which is one of the smallest in Istanbul and one of the last green spaces in the district of Beyoğlu (historically, Pera). Sagliocco made his way inside the park, where tents filled with protestors had sprung up. There were families and older people. “They could’ve been me or you,” he says.
Later, Sagliocco and his friend were enjoying dinner at the Mikla restaurant atop the Marmara Pera hotel — where the city lights twinkle beyond the liquor bottles rimming the terrace — when tear gas started wafting into the space, destroying the moment. “It felt like someone had taken a torch to your lungs.” They nonetheless persisted in their Turkish visit, savoring the sights of the city — including the Roman aqueducts and the iconic Hagia Sophia, which was once a Greek orthodox cathedral and Ottoman Empire mosque and is now a museum — before pushing on for some fun in the sun in Bodrum, which stretches into the Aegean Sea along Turkey’s southwest coast.
But Istanbul wasn’t done with its intrigue. Because he had forgotten his American passport at home, Sagliocco found his solo departure from the city delayed. The meandering cab ride to the airport — more like through the countryside — did not appear promising. Nor did the contents of the trunk, which included a rope and a gas canister, allay Sagliocco’s fears. At one point, the driver stopped and starting running from the cab in the direction of a young man. Sagliocco jumped out. Was this a kidnapping gone wrong? Was the cab going to explode?
The young man came over to Sagliocco to explain: “He doesn’t know where the airport is.”
This story — there would be similar adventures on the West Bank and in Colombia — is typical of Sagliocco, a man who likes to be where the action is. WAG was first introduced to him — and in turn introduced him to our readers — three years ago. Since then, we have found him to be one of the most generous of our subjects — generous with his time, his family, his food and other products, his willingness to help, his very self.
And that’s no small thing when you have as many irons in the fire as he does. To refresh readers’ memories, there’s Café La Fondita in Mamaroneck, with its piquant Latin American décor and offerings; Morano Landscape Garden Design, also in Mamaroneck; Weaver Gardens, a landscape design and education center in Larchmont; and Ridgeway Garden Center in White Plains.
There’s also Oliveto Morano, oil made from olives grown and pressed on the family’s ancestral estate in southern Italy’s Calabria region, where Sagliocco’s mother, Rosina, planted more than 2,300 olive trees in honor of her late father, Angelo Morano, who founded the landscaping business. The olive oil launches this year and will be on sale in the fall.
Born in White Plains and raised in Mamaroneck, where he attended Rye Neck High School, Sagliocco always loved landscaping, working alongside his grandfather and father, Domenico, even as he studied finance at Fordham University. His heart, however, wasn’t in investment banking. He instead committed to the family business in 2006, studying horticulture and design the following year at the New York Botanical Garden, a place he has called “magical,” across the street from Fordham in the Bronx.
Though his vacations have gotten a little less adventurous — he and wife Francisca Ferreira are the parents of Sofia, who just turned 1 — he continues to push the boundaries professionally, partnering with Plant the Future, a Miami-based design firm that fuses the visual arts and nature and, more recently, with The Xmas Designers, which does seasonal décor for luxury hotels and residences worldwide. Among his collaborations with The Xmas Designers were the holiday decorations at The Peninsula New York.
How does he keep all the balls in the air?
“It just happens,” he says. “It falls into place.”