He’s known as the owner of one of the best restaurants in Branford. Located in the center of town, his Pasta Cosi is a favorite of locals and foodies alike, and draws patrons from across the shoreline.
But with the success of the restaurant, Billy DiLegge has turned his attention to another lifelong dream: becoming a firefighter.
Last year, DiLegge was able to finally live that dream and was hired as a New Haven firefighter. And the path to that day was a long one.
23 years ago, Billy DiLegge’s Pasta Cosi, his Italian Restaurant, opened in Indian Neck. It later moved to its present location; the restaurant has been in the town center for 9 year this November.
“I’ve been cooking since 8th grade,” says DiLegge. After high school, he attended the Culinary Institute of America.
But even through high school, he volunteered as a firefighter, and it was always a pull for him. He would take tests in various towns as positions became available “just to see what happens.” But it never worked out.
“I almost got discouraged,” he said. “You test in so many cities…then you sit on a list for two years hoping to get the call.” DiLegge stated he took the test at least 8 times.
At 42, Billy was pretty much done taking the test, until some Crossfit members encouraged his to take the New Haven test. New Haven was about to hire a significant amount of new firefighters.
He has passed the test in New Haven and made the list before. But he never got the call. This time, 120 were being hired, but thousands applied and were interviewed over multiple days at the Omni Hotel.
Billy passed that test 2 years ago. But the process would include multiple notifications and further testing; as each part of the test is passed, months may go by before the notification comes in and the next test portion scheduled.
“You’re just treading water, waiting for the letter,” he said. The overall tests include written and oral examination, physical agility tests, and background checks.
But then in December of 2014, the week of Christmas, it came.
“It said ‘congratulations,’ and that I was to report for the Academy January 21."
DiLegge’s was thrilled, but so were two others: his son’s, Dante, age 8 and Luca, 6.
“They were super-thrilled,” says DiLegge.
And they, along with Billy's wife, had to be understanding. Firefighting presents a challenging schedule. The shifts include three consecutive nights at 14 hours each, and after some time off, 3 consecutive day shifts.
And here is where the staff he has hired and assembled over the years has helped. Pasta Cosi has great employees that Billy praises and credits for the restaurants success, allowing him the freedom to pursue joint careers.
And as his career blossoms into firefighting, so does Pasta Cosi. With the failure of many of the area steak houses limiting options for meat lovers, Billy has launched a new steak menu, featuring high end, dry aged steaks along with a new raw bar for patrons.
But that is all while fighting fires in New Haven, a position which includes making sure those fellow firefighters are well fed.
“Believe me, they eat well,” says the 44 year-old firefighting rookie. The fire company often has meal requests for him, and he is happy to be the de facto chef of his department.
But he won’t forget the home of his signature restaurant and the impact it has had. “I love Branford; Branford has been great to me,” he says.
And on finally living the dream of being a firefighter?
“It was worth the wait, I can say that.”