LACONIA – When the Ray brothers took over the Weirs Beach Lobster Pound, they inherited employee Bri Heney, who they soon recognized as one of the business’s valuable assets. She rose to the role of general manager at Faro, which is what they transformed the Lobster Pound into. Then Richard Ray picked her to lead Faro Express, on Union Avenue, an important experiment in translating fine Italian food into the fast-casual service model.

“Rich wanted to take a step back,” Heney said, explaining why Faro Express closed in July of last year, despite its service model seeming tailor-made for the labor crunches that were only exaggerated by the pandemic.

When Heney re-opened the doors to the building in December 2021, it was to a restaurant that was finally of her own design, and with her as the sole owner. She named her wine bar and fine dining restaurant after a small spot in Rome that stayed in Heney’s heart since she visited, and which she thought would resonate with the diners that she grew up serving in Laconia.

“When I was in Italy, I went to a place called Bernini. I loved it so much, ”said Heney. It was a “cute, little” wine bar, with delicious, approachable food.

“I just thought it was so different and new.” Heney suspected the experience would work just as well in Laconia as it did in Rome, so she renovated the interior of Faro Express, changing it into a wine bar with as many small tables as would fit. “I wanted to start something new, something I thought the city of Laconia needed.”

Bernini’s wine list features 30 different wines, many of which won’t be found elsewhere nearby. The restaurant’s menu is built around Italian dishes that pair well with the wines. Heney said the arugula, burrata and prosciutto pizza is very popular, as are the filet mignon, and the scallops and arancini. She’s partial to the salmon, seared and served with honey, lemon and garlic; and the chicken stuffed with sundried tomatoes and spinach, with a bechamel sauce.

“I learned a lot at Faro, that’s what I brought here,” said Heney. Her design shows more efficiency than what was in the space before. Bernini has 40 seats – 20 more outside when the weather warms – which is more than Faro Express could seat. And she serves that many with the same staff.

Heney’s suspicion was accurate. Bernini has been full since it opened, with many diners making their next reservation before leaving. That success is due to her experience with the local market, and her ability to imagine what it lacked.

“I’ve lived here my entire life, I’ve grown to know the restaurant industry,” said Heney, “I think this was exactly what was needed, that date-night scene.”

Bernini serves dinner six nights per week.

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