Nosy Questions for Lynette Hawkins

Is there anything more deliciously satisfying than a casual neighborhood trattoria and wine bar where the owner is also the chef, and she’s always – always! – on the premises? Lynette Hawkins opened Giacomo’s Cibo e Vino in 2009, and since then she has cooked her way into our hearts with favorites such as tagliatelle alla Bolognese, spaghetti alla carbonara, gamberi al diavolo and polpette Puccini. The restaurant is appealing inside, with tables and wall color blocks the hue of Italian scooters, and there are two dog-friendly patios. Wine lovers enjoy her well curated list featuring smaller producers, women winemakers and exceptional value. We recently dropped in at Giacomo’s to chat up Lynette and ask a few nosy questions.

Photos by Becca Wright

Tell us about your education. University or straight into work?

I spent two semesters in England at the University of Sussex when we were living in London, but I received my degree at the University of Houston when we moved back to the States. I studied architecture, but soon discovered I had neither the patience nor the talent to become an architect. I ended up with a very practical business degree, which definitely came in handy when I started my own business. I began working in restaurants while still going to school. I enjoyed the restaurant business so much that I didn’t adapt to a nine-to-five job after graduating.

Who was your mentor in the restaurant business?

I would have to say mentors, with an s: the Carrabba and Mandola families of restaurateurs. They are incredible operators. I learned so much while working for them.

What do you collect?

I collect books (tons of cookbooks, including vintage and out of print), wine, vintage kitchen gadgets and Italian ceramics. And recently, cats. Kittens seem to find me. I rescued a tiny two-week-old kitten on Westheimer in front of Giacomo’s a couple of weeks ago, another six-week-old kitten found in the garbage, and a three-month-old feral kitten that started hanging out on Giacomo’s patios begging for food from my customers. So far, my yellow lab Puccini, doesn’t mind.

So, you have pets?

Three senior cats, three kittens and one senior yellow Labrador retriever. Yes, I have become the other weird cat lady in the neighborhood.

Giacomo was a dog, right? Tell us about him.

Giacomo was a sweet and gentle yellow Labrador retriever who loved cats and never left my side. Johnny Carrabba and Damian Mandola bid on him at a fundraiser and gave him to me when he was about eight weeks old. We had a very long happy time together, longer than any of my marriages. He was still around when I opened Giacomo’s in 2009.

You’re well known for being an animal-lover. How does that work at the restaurant?

Each month I create a new dessert or offer an old favorite, and the profits are donated to Houston-based Rescued Pets Movement. I began doing this in September 2014, and to date over $70,000 has been donated. Rescued Pets Movement began operations in late 2013 and, to date, has saved the lives of 81,000 cats and dogs.

What’s the mantra of your kitchen?

They are numerous, but my most frequent preachings in the kitchen are: taste and season throughout the cooking process, never take shortcuts, and make sure the aromatic vegetable base is fully caramelized.

Giacomo’s Spaghetti alla Carbonara.
Giacomo’s Spaghetti alla Carbonara.

Lease favorite thing about your job?

Taking inventory

A fun fact that most people don’t know about you?

I don’t know if everyone knows that I grew up in Italy, France, Libya and England. My father was a petroleum engineer working for a petroleum service company and we moved to Florence when I was a baby, returning to Texas when I was 19. I had an amazing childhood with exposure to so many different cuisines and cultures.

Do you have a favorite flower? 


Your biggest extravagance?

Big, gorgeous books on art and artists. Rare Italian wine. Fluffy beds, silly toys and treats for my animals. I am a sucker for all the ads that pop up on Instagram.

Your favorite food and drink pairing?

Oysters and Champagne

What do you do in your free time, if you have any? 

Read, play with my animals. Dine with friends. Binge on European murder mysteries on Prime Video MHz Choice.

Giacomo’s tortelli di bietola

Favorite recent gift?

All the beautiful flowers my staff gave me for my birthday.

“Every day I read …”

The New York Times – especially the food and wine sections.

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would she think?

How did I get so old and out of shape? But also – Wow, I made a career out of something I love to do. I have my own fairly successful business, I am totally independent, and I have met so many incredible people!

Do you have a secret vice?

No – all my vices are out in the open

Your friend is coming to Houston and has never been before. What must they do while they’re here?

Visit the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the Menil Collection. And, of course, dine at Giacomo’s!