“I was planning his funeral,” Pasco chef’s triumphant return to the kitchen

PASCO, Wash. — It was a bold move opening an Italian restaurant in the heart of downtown Pasco, where Mexican cuisine reigns.

We got a whole lot of naysayers like, ‘what are you doing?'” Susanne Ayala said.

But nonetheless, a little over a year after opening, Ciao Trattoria is thriving.

Chef Jessie Ayala and his wife / co-owner, Susanne, started with a restaurant in Prosser, and then opened the Ciao Wagon.

“Went into the food truck business, did very, very well, kept it going for a long time,” Chef Jessie said.

Last summer, they were approached by their now landlord, who pitched them the idea of utilizing a space in downtown Pasco off of Lewis and 4th.

“At first it was like yeah no we’re not doing that right now,” Susanne said the space was just that.

But you know what they say, ‘just sleep on it.’

And sure enough, the Ayalas came up with Ciao Trattoria.

“Everything initially was not going to be a full-service restaurant — by the time we finished it, we’re like yeah we can’t really do a takeout place in here it’s decorated too nicely,” Susanne laughed.

In two months, the bare bones space went from drab to delicious.

“There is big flavor with very simple ingredients, and very wonderful food that’s out there,” Chef Jessie described the various dishes on the menu like macaroni and cheese or their mezze plate.

There’s one thing this restaurant is missing: a stove and hood vent system.

Jessie said they prep everything at nearby Pasco Specialty Kitchen.

“Create it there, bring it over and finish the cooking procedure here,” he explained.

Today, it’s a miracle Jessie is around to cook the delicious meals.

But to understand why, we have to rewind to fall 2020.

“Oh yeah that!” Jessie laughed.

He’s candid about it now, but COVID-19 nearly took Jessie’s life.

“But it infected my lungs, so I had COVID pneumonia really bad. They tried everything they could do, everything from vitamins to the latest and greatest medical technology everything,” he said.

Nothing was working, so he was transferred from Trios in Kennewick to a Portland hospital, where Jessie was placed on an ECMO machine, which externally oxygenates a person’s blood in a dire situation.

Jessie was given a 19 percent chance of survival.

“I was planning his funeral, I was – it was a tough time, it was really tough because I couldn’t go see him,” Susanne said.

“They were expecting me to be on there 6 months or more, but I did it in two weeks, two and a half weeks,” he said.

Jessie wasn’t sure he’d ever return to cooking.

“Had to learn walking, breathing, talking, how to use my hands again you know, I was worried that I’d have to retire,” he said.

But just after Thanksgiving 2020, he was released. Weeks later, Jessie and Susanne catered their first event, post-COVID infection. They had to put everything on hold while Jessie was hospitalized, including their food truck Ciao.

To date, the chef said he has some lingering effects of COVID but mostly gratitude to be alive.

“It’s pretty weird to think okay so, what if I had stopped doing it, or what if I didn’t make it, I mean there’s so many what ifs, but you know first and foremost I thank God for it,” Jessie said.

“Where we were two years ago and even just imagining having a restaurant of our own and have the food truck and be able to do all of these things and be able to share a little piece of us with the community, it blows our minds every day,” Susanne said.

Ciao Trattoria is open Tuesdays-Saturdays, you can find their hours and menu online. They’re located at 112 North 4th Avenue in Pasco.