On April 2, the city of Mercer Island gave the 2018 Citizen of the Year award to Lisa and Rino Caruccio.
The Caruccios have been involved in the Mercer Island community since becoming residents in 2006. Their children went through the Mercer Island Schools and have been involved in VOICE, National Charity League and high school sports. They are St. Monica parishioners, regular donors to Mercer Island Youth and Family Services and key donors to the Mercer Island Schools Foundation.
In 2017, the Caruccios opened a business in the Town Center to expand their community support and involvement that has quickly become a place to meet, eat, drink and be merry. Caruccio’s, their culinary event center, was inspired by a love of food, wine, film and hospitality from all over the world.
Caruccio’s is involved in the greater community as well. Each year, the business creates and donates a five-course, wine-paired dinner for film producers from Seattle International Film Festival, and it hosts events featuring Food Network celebrities and corporate clients such as Amazon and Microsoft, contributing to the vitality of Mercer Island. Caruccio’s also employs Fare Start employees, helping people with barriers to employment get the skills they need for a real career.
Closer to home, Caruccio’s hires Mercer Island musicians for live music, particularly young people looking for a chance to perform their music. It also prepares and donates 20 full Thanksgiving meals for Mercer Island Youth and Family Services and supports youth and schools on Mercer Island, offering a special rate for school organizations including the Mercer Island Schools Foundation and Mercer Island Lacrosse.
Lisa Caruccio makes homemade personalized dog biscuits each week at Caruccio’s for community dogs and donates 10 percent of sales to the Humane Society. She also personally calls community members who she met at Caruccio’s if they are sick and offers to make and deliver chicken soup.
The business creates an inviting space for “celebration of life” (memorial and funeral) events on the Island, being mindful of the need to express emotion and heal while honoring a family’s loved one by recreating favorite recipes and Skyping-in relatives who cannot make the event.
One of the most popular events, Wine Wednesdays, brings an average of 150-200 people together for food, wine and live music. Old and young connect and build relationships at community tables.
Lisa and Rino Caruccio take special care and interest in their senior friends across the street at Aljoya and know them by name. They are working on holding a regular event for Aljoya and Covenant Shores to have their own private outings at Caruccio’s monthly, to socialize and enjoy food and wine.
A quote on the Caruccio’s website states: “Caruccio’s is a life passion project: each and every detail of our culinary event center has been well-planned with love and care, Caruccio’s truly capture our passion for bringing beautiful food and people together.”
“Lisa and Rino are truly committed to the Mercer Island community. The breadth and depth of their support for the people and the culture on this Island is commendable and deeply appreciated,” the city said in a statement. “Thank you, Lisa and Rino, for creating a space to eat delicious food and spend time with each other on our Island.”
The Mercer Island City Council made the surprise announcement at its meeting on April 2, and Lisa and Rino Caruccio said they were humbled and honored.
“When we came out here 13 years ago, like many other people, we came out here because of the schools. We stayed because of the community. It really is the community that drives us,” Rino said.
The council began recognizing outstanding efforts of citizens in 1990 and has continued the tradition for more than 20 years. Former Citizens of the Year have included Victor and Laurie Raisys from Island Books, Terry Moreman from the Chamber of Commerce and local singer-songwriter Nancy Stewart. See www.mercergov.org/CitizenofYear for more award recipients.
This story was updated at 11:15 a.m. on April 3.