Client Success Story: Ilda in Sylva

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Ilda: Bringing a Taste of Italy in the South

Opening any business during these pandemic years may have been a daunting feat for most, but for Sylva, NC native Crystal and her partner Santiago, it was a necessary and calculated risk to take. 

They took their concept from New York to Sylva, and Ilda, an authentic Italian restaurant, was born. 

Six months after opening, it’s clear the risk was well worth taking. 

From New York to Sylva

The partnership of Crystal and Santiago began in New York almost a decade ago, where the two had been working in hospitality. It’s where they found their passion – hosting others and bringing a sense of welcome and hospitality into each experience. 

With a dream of one day starting their own business, the couple originally tried out a concept in New York, aiming to open a restaurant in Brooklyn. After having the project fall through and realizing they’d need to start elsewhere, Crystal realized they could take it to her hometown of Sylva and turn their dream into a reality. 

But it wasn’t just about returning to her hometown – back in the ’80s, Crystal’s stepmom owned a place in Sylva called Meatballs. You can probably guess what they sold! After she passed in 2007 and the 2008 recession hit, the property was lost from the family. 

As fate would have it, the same property became available once again in 2019 as Crystal and Santiago were in search of a place for their new restaurant concept. Taking it as a sign, they invested in the property, relocated from New York to Sylva, NC, and began developing their business.

A Taste of Italy with Local Flair

With both Crystal and Santiago coming from an Italian background (Crystal is of Sicilian descent and Santiago is both Argentinian and Sicilian), they knew their restaurant would serve authentic Italian-style dishes. 

They even took inspiration from Santiago’s Sicilian grandmother, naming the restaurant Ilda, after her. 

Although both of them have Sicilian roots, they decided to focus on broader Italian food for their dishes, to provide guests with more dining options. Given their love of hosting, they have spent the last year and a half finding a way to invite the people of Sylva into their restaurant, their culture, and their passion for food. 

Getting Started with Mountain BizWorks 

Upon recalling how they first got started, Santiago recalled, “At some point, we were tired of working for somebody else, but we also had this idea that we wanted to host people. We wanted to do it for so long and we hit a point where it was just the right thing.” 

As the restaurant has already found incredible success in Sylva in just six months in operation, Crystal and Santiago attribute much of that success to the support and resources of Mountain BizWorks. “[In addition to] the loan program, we utilized the marketing, the website development, and the coaching on business. And every aspect has been great!”, Santiago noted.

Their business comes at an exciting time for Mountain BizWorks as well, who recently hired a regional manager for the southwestern counties of WNC to provide small business support services to the area and expand their reach. As Mountain BizWorks grows, so does the opportunity for entrepreneurs across North Carolina. 

Food, Wine, and the Future of Ilda

In addition to opening Ilda, Crystal and Santiago also opted to invest in an additional property next door – a wine bar space that complements their talents and vision perfectly. The business pairing has also shown success for the couple. And their planned growth doesn’t stop there. 

With expansions into catering for events and weddings, private dining experiences, and more, they note some of the secrets of their success: “Don’t be afraid. Measure your decisions and try to make the best of them…Listen to those with experience and let [them] tell you things when they know it – take their guidance,” Santiago advises. 

Next time you’re in Sylva, swing by Ilda for one of Santiago and Crystal’s iconic Italian dishes. 


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