Italy on a Plate with Vietri Founder, Susan Gravely
In Episode 65 of the Kitchen Confidante Podcast, Liren Baker talks with Vietri founder Susan Gravely about her book, Italy on a Plate, the friendships and partnerships in Italy that have made Veitri so successful, the parallels between Italian and Southern hospitality, and more!
Italy on a Plate — with Susan Gravely of Vietri
On the podcast, I recently spoke with Susan Gravely, a founder and CEO of Vietri. Vietri is a lifestyle brand offering handcrafted Italian tabletop and home and garden accessories. Susan’s love for hand-painted dinnerware started after a trip to the Amalfi coast with her mother and sister in 1983 — when they returned home, they built Vietri to share this beautiful craft stateside.
Vietri has since become the largest importer of Italian ceramics in the U.S. To celebrate the company’s 40th anniversary, Susan has written a memoir and cookbook: Italy on a Plate: Travels, Memories, Menus.
In this episode, we discuss her book, the friendships and partnerships in Italy that have made Vietri so successful, the parallels between Italian and Southern hospitality, and more!
Listen to the full episode here or keep reading for some of my favorite moments with Susan.
Where did the inspiration come from to start Vietri?
In the early 80s, my mother and father had planned a trip to Italy — one of their favorite places they’d dreamt about. After my father suddenly died, my mother asked my sister and me to go with her in his honor.
When we arrived at our hotel, Il San Pietro in Positano, we immediately fell in love with the menagerie of beautiful, handmade ceramics and dinnerware at the hotel’s restaurant. The next day, we met the artisans at a nearby factory in the town of Vietri sul Mare. We fell in love and decided to figure out how to become a wholesaler and distributor of these amazing ceramics. The company name has a dual meaning: of course, it comes from the town of Vietri sul Mare, but it is also the reverse of “tre vie” or three lives, representing the three of us working together.
How did your Southern upbringing help shape this journey?
My mother has always been a gracious hostess. From a young age, she taught me about good manners, the art of setting a table, and the practice of inviting guests to the table, no matter who they were. Growing up, I was always sitting at the table with the adults, helping serve drinks, and learning how to create this warm environment to celebrate around food and learn about others. This deeply engrained an appreciation for what was on the table — which naturally led to an appreciation for Italian ceramics and cooking.
Over the years, this background has helped us build rich relationships with Italian maestros, designers, homemakers, painters, glaze creators, and others involved in our business. We’ve spent much time around Italian tables and recipes through these relationships.
Tell us more about your book, Italy on a Plate
This book is a mix of memoir and cookbook, and it captures the essence of Vietri. It is about the recipes and the friends we’ve made and the warmth of the people, environment, and food in Italy. Therefore, the chapter titles are more about the people, relationships, and places that have been important to us rather than traditional cookbook titles. All the recipes come from the people and places we’ve visited and worked in over the years. Many are indigenous family recipes that I’ve actually had in their homes and celebrated around their tables. And, of course, these recipes pair beautifully with the ceramic dishes.
Italy on a Plate: Travels, Memories, Menus, by Susan Gravely (Vietri Publishing, 2023).
Tita Bosio’s Carrot and Zucchini Strudel