Maya J owner to bring taste of Italy to Manayunk with Gigi Italian Bistro

By Rachel Ravina
For Digital First Media

MANAYUNK >> Manayunk soon will welcome Gigi Italian Bistro BYOB to join its culinary community.

With the eatery located at 4357 Main St. in Manayunk, chef Craig Wilson and his fiancée, Jacqueline Au, will commence on this appetizing journey.

“I thought there was a real need for some good Italian around here,” Wilson said.

The origins of Gigi Italian Bistro BYOB are close to home for Wilson, who explained he named Gigi Italian Bistro after the influential women in his life: his mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.

“I came home from New York to be with my family and my mom, who is a Gigi, and I just thought that making a restaurant that was comfortable and homey would be a good homage to all the Gigis of the world, including my mother and my grandmother, and you know we all have a Gigi in our lives, right?” Wilson said.

Describing the term Gigi, which equates to a “grandmother,” “nonna” or “momma,” Wilson affirmed his admiration for them.

“My mother and grandmother work so hard to feed their kids and put food on the table, and they don’t get a lot of credit,” he said.

Wilson said he organized an initiative on Facebook, asking people to send in photographs of their own personal Gigi and plans to incorporate the pictures in Gigi Italian Bistro BYOB.

“It’s been a real tribute,” Wilson said. “The idea was a tribute to my mother and grandmother, and the women in my life, and now it’s sort of octupussing out to other people when we announced we wanted to put those on our wall. It’s a very lovely thing.”

Wilson said his love of Italian food was a key factor when deciding to embark on the endeavor of opening a restaurant.

“It’s just a simple, fresh, delightful food if it’s done right,” Wilson said.

In addition to Gigi, Wilson owns Maya J in Manayunk, which embodies a contrasting identity.

“[You can] go over there and eat around the world, or you can come here and eat some really good Italian food,” Wilson said.

While he works with sophisticated ingredients at Maya J., Wilson acknowledged the importance of uncomplicated culinary elements.

“For a chef, I think there’s ... a lot to be said for simplicity, and that’s kind of what Gigi’s food is all about: really fresh, good quality, simplicity,” he said.

For Wilson, Italian food exhibits accessibility.

“Italian food is a few fresh ingredients that make up one wonderful thing,” Wilson said.

Originating from the Philadelphia area, Wilson feels that returning to Main Street in Manayunk “is like a big time homecoming for me.”

Wilson said he’s excited not only for the opening of his new restaurant, but also for the rejuvenation of the area itself.

“I like Manayunk in general right now,” Wilson said. “I wasn’t scared to do this because I believe in the revitalization that’s happening here, you know with the new housing. ... I feel like it’s trying to become what it was 20 years ago when it was like a real restaurant destination.”

Wilson said he envisions a satisfying “vibe” for Gigi Italian Bistro BYOB.

“[For] Gigi, I want it to be just like a simple, comfortable [place], you know you can go a couple nights a week and bring your kids and watch the game kind of place,” Wilson said.

Gigi Italian Bistro BYOB currently has a tentative opening date of mid-July.