What does a Raymond James executive do when he retires at 55? He moves to Italy to start a luxury culinary vacation program.
It started on a train ride from Milan to Rome in the fall of 1988 — the first of what would become many visits to Italy. Mike Di Girolamo remembered staring out the window as he passed through the golden wheat fields of Tuscany, feeling an immediate connection with the country. It was a feeling in his soul, that he belonged in the land of his ancestors. He felt a deep affinity – difficult to explain and perhaps impossible – unless you have an intimate connection with your immigrant heritage. Since all four of his grandparents immigrated to the United States from Italy, it felt natural.
When Di Girolamo was 30, his father died suddenly at the age of 69. His father had delayed his retirement, partly because he liked what he did — he was a pharmacist — partly because he worked to support a family of five kids in St. Petersburg. He had just started to plan some extensive travel with Mike’s mother when he died. While he had led a full life, his death made Mike determined that he would make the most of opportunities for travel and adventure, setting his sights on early retirement.
Mike set an aggressive goal – to retire by 55. He had already begun his career at St. Petersburg-based Raymond James Financial, Inc. in 1984, right out of the University of Florida, and he planned to stay. He learned from his mentor and boss of 20 years to plan for retirement and go out on “your own terms” at a young enough age to actually enjoy retirement.
It wasn’t really until the age of 50 that he began trying to figure out how to do something he was passionate about, that would keep him engaged and also make some money to reward his effort. Over the years, he had developed passions for food, cooking, travel, wine, art, and, of course, Italy. Then, he took a month-long vacation in Italy to celebrate his 50th and the beginnings of the idea were born. A few years later, after 31 years at Raymond James, he fulfilled his dream, and retired to Italy where he runs La Cucina Sabina, a luxury culinary vacation program on an 150 acre estate located amongst olive and cherry orchards, just 30 minutes northeast of Rome.
A typical week at La Cucina Sabina is seven days and six nights, all inclusive. This includes all food, wine, four hands-on lessons, transfers, tours, guides, luxury villa accommodations, exclusive access to castles, wineries, premium restaurants, Tivoli Gardens, dinner in a castle, lunch next to an ancient Roman Temple, rooftop dinner in Rome, tour of the Umbrian town of Orvieto and much more!
While he’s the host, Di Girolamo doesn’t teach the cooking classes. “I’m in and out of the kitchen as needed, serving Prosecco to guests during the lesson, eating meals jointly prepared with our chefs, and accompanying them on many of the tours, wine tastings, etc. As the CEO, I primarily handle the sales, marketing, hosting, site and itinerary selections.” He now lives on property about 50 yards from the villa and splits his time between Italy and his home in St. Petersburg’s Snell Isle. “People often ask me how I like retirement and living in Italy. My first response is that I’m not retired but rather redirected. I don’t feel retired and in fact, many days I put in more hours than I did when I was in a corporate job,” says Di Girolamo.
Di Girolamo says he loves creating “WOW” experiences for people, introducing them to food, culture, art, history, and people and places they never would have experienced on their own. He says the satisfaction of his post-retirement “redirection” comes from creating unique experiences for others and seeing and hearing their delight.
The St Pete Catalyst has arranged for an exclusive package of amenities with La Cucina Sabrina. It includes 2 on-site massages, a bottle of fine Italian Prosecco and their estate bottled extra virgin olive oil, a $275 value!
Mike DiGirolamo is Proprietor and Host of La Cucina Sabina, LLC. He can be reached through his website or by email (email@example.com) or phone (+1 727 560 7430).