MILTON — Giuseppe Gigliotti has operated G&G Original Italian Food restaurant at 6554 Caroline St. in Milton for the past five years.

While the chef still has family and property in Italy, he prefers to call the United States home.

Gigliotti, 81, moved to the United States from Italy following a 1968 vacation to New York. His trip turned into cooking for a few weeks for a friend at an Italian restaurant in Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn before moving on to seek relatives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

In 1980, at another friend's request, the retired Navy sailor visited Pensacola.

“Every night, I got on the bridge fishing — 25 to 30 pounds of fish…I was supposed to stay a week…I stayed over here three months,” he said.

Over the next three decades, Gigliotti owned different Italian restaurants, eventually moving to Santa Rosa County while also making regular trips back to Italy.

“I have property in South Italy…on the water,” he said, “and I have my house I still go (to) every two years...”

With a restaurant, a home, and family back in Italy, one may question why Gigliotti returns to the United States.

He has concerns about his country of origin.

“Italy no like for me,” Gigliotti said. “The United States changed, too, now. After 10 years, it started to change over here, a lot of problems, too, but still I (prefer) America because nobody bothers you in your business. You pay your tax and everything. Nobody bothers me. In Italy, they have a lot of problems starting with the Mafia … crooked money. This is why I stay in the United States. Everything is nice and straight. Nobody can park on the sidewalk. Everything is clean...”

Gigliotti was impressed seeing a prison workforce cleaning the streets.

“In Pensacola, I saw a bunch of people with the yellow jackets in a park. They were cleaning little paper, everything they find. When I stopped (I asked) ‘Who are these people?’ I was impressed. I like this.”

From Gigliotti's vantage, corruption is part of life in Italy. That's why he prefers the U.S.

“Everything is straight," he said. "That’s what I love: respect for the law. …In Italy, it’s crooked money, to the state, to everybody.”

Doing business in Italy means regular payments to the Mafia, according to Gigliotti.

“The story in Italy is, if you want to open a business, you can’t open before you pay," he said. "You’ve got to pay every week to (the) Mafia…You’ll be rich and he knows when you have a lot of money. He comes in and he knocks on the door and you’ll give it to him. (If) you don’t pay (and) you have a car or something, it’ll blow up. That’s what he’ll do.”

Indeed, an April 2017 article on The Local.it, "Italy's news in English," says it all: "At least 5,000 restaurants in Italy are thought to be mafia-run."English

While there also was organized crime in New York, it wasn’t the same, Gigliotti said.

“In New York, see, nobody bothers to you ... " he said. "In Italy, soon as they see the sign they say, ‘Hey, come by. What do you do? Do you know how much you’re going to pay?’

"He calls it 'protection,' but protection from him.”