In less than a year, a familiar restaurant will fire up its brick ovens for a second round in Gainesville, this time on the square.
Little Italy Pizza is coming back to town.
“I’ve always wanted to be a part of the square,” said Ben Cortese, owner of Little Italy Pizza. “I’m so happy with the growth coming here. I want to open up the Italian pizza place to where it's going to be something special for downtown.”
Cortese ran a Little Italy off Riverside for 16 years, then decided to close it, later opening a new location in Oakwood. Last year, Cortese said he was given an offer for the assets of his business in Oakwood, and he decided to take the opportunity. The restaurant is now called “Vinny’s Little Italy,” but Cortese said it’s not affiliated with his family’s pizza business nor does it have the same menu.
Cortese explained that like every restaurant, his business had to overcome challenges to stay afloat during the pandemic.
“When somebody approached me to get out of that, I took it,” Cortese said. “Now it’s my opportunity to start looking for a building to buy. “This (restaurant on the square) is a better investment.”
On Monday, May 10, Cortese said he closed on the 4,100-square-foot building on Bradford Street, between Recess Southern Gastro-pub and The Imperial Salon. He aims to have it up and running around Christmastime.
“Little Italys are usually in downtown square areas, in Athens, Tuscaloosa, Auburn,” he said. “I think this is going to be my best location.”
When people enter the new restaurant, Cortese said they’ll be greeted with a casual family-friendly atmosphere and the smell of fresh basil and oregano. Instead of growing pots of herbs to display in the restaurant, he plans to instead have a hydroponic garden, which will be attached to a wall.
“We’re going to try and grow that in here,” he said. “People will be able to see us cut it and trim it. It’s something we’ve always wanted to do.”
Cortese said the restaurant will go back to the old-school style of ordering and picking up food at a counter. The business will not hire servers.
“We want to make this pizzeria easy for people to get in and out for lunch,” he said.
Cortese explained that he intends to keep the prices fair, offering around a $10 lunch. The menu will include pizza, calzones, baked ziti, stromboli, lasagna and more.
When the restaurant opens, it will have a customer capacity of around 75, and include outdoor seating on the soon-to-be extended sidewalks along Bradford Street. Cortese said he wants to keep the business open until midnight Thursday through Saturday, so people will be able to pop in for a slice after having a few drinks at the local beer and wine shops.
Like the Little Italy locations in Athens and other cities, the one of the square will keep to the old Cortese family recipes, which date back to the ‘50s.
Cortese said his roots go back to Southern Italy. He said his father, Joe “Peppino,” moved from Italy to Brooklyn when he was 13. To help make ends meet for his family, Cortese said his father learned how to make pizza from an older Italian man who lived in the city.
Today, Peppino makes the same type of Italian-New York style pizza, and has passed down his knowledge to his sons.
“We’re never going to change our pizza,” Cortese said.