Text and photos by Charlotte Aguilar
Christopher Arcidiacono has assembled a crack team to help him create his new business — but ultimately, it’s his heart and his gut instincts that are guiding him. “An idea that comes from what I’ve lived,” is how he describes it.
With roots deep in West University, the 34-year-old’s local knowledge is reflected in the design, menu and thoughtful details at Christo Mio Coffee Bar & Eatery at 2523 Quenby St., on the edge of Rice Village.
There’s the muted, sleek design by architect Peter Boudreaux with glistening beverage and food prep equipment, and a verdant and expansive outdoor area —dog-friendly — with a fragrant herb garden to add freshness to the menu offerings. Those range from coffees, house-made organic nut milks, healthy teas and smoothies, to breakfast tacos and pastries, gourmet waffles, pizzas and pastas. A nicely curated retail section of mugs, books, children’s items and novelties is perfect for gift-giving, and Christo Mio boasts a rarity in the Rice Village area — its own parking.
What you won’t find is a drop of alcohol. That’s motivated by what Arcidiacono simply calls “a rough patch” he went through when he briefly moved to Southern California in 2013 to take assessment of his life and “fell in with the wrong crowd.” Too many late nights, too much liquor ensued, “and a lot of people took advantage of me.”
Family intervened and got him into recovery, then back to Houston to shape a new life. That’s when the germ of an idea formed for Christo Mio, the term of endearment given to him by his Sicilian grandfather, Achille Arcidiacono. “The same things I love about the nightlife of bars — socializing, late hours — could also be part of a sober lifestyle,” he realized. “And there was nothing like that here.”
There’s much more to his life that has brought him to Christo Mio, though. His seemingly idyllic family was shattered in 1998 when he was 11, as his mother, Mary Beth Lee, drove her four children back to West U from their annual vacation in Colorado and their SUV veered out of control, rolling over and over on the highway. Chrissy, as he was known then, and older brother Johnny, 13, were both hurled from the vehicle despite wearing seatbelts. Mary Beth, youngest son Joey and daughter Allie were relatively unscathed.
Johnny died from his injuries, and Chrissy was left in what doctors said could be a permanent vegetative state. He was in a coma for six weeks and using a wheelchair and a food tube when he came home, having to relearn walking, talking and replacing 11 years of knowledge and memories in a brain that had suffered severe trauma.
With his mother’s stubborn refusal to accept the doctors’ verdict on his future and the attention of family, friends and specialists, Chrissy was kicking a soccer ball and riding a bike with his dad, John, by Christmas.
He tried to return to school at St. John’s, already having lost months of the sixth-grade year. That proved too challenging academically and socially, and he spent years in special programs. By high school, he insisted that he was ready to return to the mainstream, and graduated on time from Lamar HS in 2005 with a Texas Scholar designation, having completed a college prep curriculum. Eventually he moved on to take classes at Houston Community College and the University of St. Thomas.
A gifted athlete before the accident, Arcidiacono trained for the Paralympic Games at one time in soccer, but gave that up and worked with sports programs at Episcopal High School and The Joy School — even a stint with the Houston Rockets.
His mother, who had owned and operated the popular Stop, Look & Learn children’s store in the Village, believed in her son’s concept for Christo Mio, and in 2016, they bought Hans Bier Haus, a neighborhood hangout. Now a clinical social worker specializing in grief and traumatic loss, she empathized with how their family’s tragedy had shaped Chrissy’s life and goals, but wanted him to take charge of the business planning and eventual operation.
“This is not a hobby,” she said. “This has got to be sustainable. And it’s already getting there.”
The team helping the young man reach his goals includes Alberta Totz, who has connected Christo Mio to local farmer’s markets and vendors — the “clean-living community,” she calls it — creating a menu that will include Arcidiacono family recipes adapted to sugar-, dairy, and gluten-free diets.
Two sisters from Mexico — Victoria Mendes and Karen Carrillo — came on board last year and run the front and back of the house, respectively. They’re helping gear up for Christo Mio to become a Village nightspot, with the patio open eventually until 2 a.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Already the outdoor space has been used for gatherings, and Arcidiacono envisions a steady stream of special events there. He plans also to use the business to support two favorite causes: Recovery from traumatic brain injury, and battered women, after losing a friend in California to violence.
“The core here is Christopher,” says Mendes deferentially. “Watching him get involved with his customers has been magical.”
Totz enthuses over the “regulars” from Rice and the Medical Center, and word-of-mouth has already been strong on local social media, praising the menu offerings — but most often mentioning the charming and gracious young proprietor.
The rollout has been deliberately measured, but there was one urgent motivation late last year, despite the pandemic: For Achille Arcidiacono to see the culmination of his “Christo Mio’s” longtime dream in operation. He died of cancer in January of this year, but was able to experience a family event there before his passing.
That memory brings a wistful smile to his grandson, who recently marked eight years of sobriety. “My family has made me feel like this is what I was meant to do,” he says, “and now my customers are making me feel that way, too.”