Sturiale Place Plans to Reopen Italian Cafe on Jefferson Street 

If you happened to be driving down Front Street at just the wrong moment on Nov. 23, 2015, you may have seen The Sturiale Place on the move. When the moon was high, workers loaded the historic Zimmer House onto a flatbed truck and inched it slowly from its original spot in the Central Addition neighborhood to its new home at the corner of 15th and Jefferson streets; each time the house reached a stoplight, the light had to be dismantled so that it could continue through the next block.

"I paid quite a bit to have it moved," said Rita Sturiale, the antique enthusiast who bought the house, restored it to glory and transitioned it into the import gift shop/Italian cafe it is today. She smiled wryly at the understatement.

click to enlarge The Sturiale Place should soon be open for lunches four days a week. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • The Sturiale Place should soon be open for lunches four days a week.

As Rita and her daughter, Gina Sturiale, tell it, the restoration process was both a struggle and a joy, a balance between pouring away money and finding forgotten pieces of historic grandeur. Gina's dream was to open a shop to sell antiques and imported foods from Italy (now open on Wednesday afternoons), but she knew she'd need a source of income to support the project: that's when the idea to turn the rest of the house and garden into an Italian cafe was born.

The cafe opened briefly in 2017 with Gina running the front of the house and family friend Nikki Russo at the helm in the kitchen, but the Sturiales said it was never supposed to be sustainable; rather, they were testing the market with Russo's family recipes. After a positive response, they closed the cafe to finish renovating its tiny kitchen and recruit a professional chef. Now, the search is almost over.

"We're interviewing chefs right now, and two of them we like a lot," Rita said, "...It looks like we just might be able to have a decision made by next week."

click to enlarge The newly renovated kitchen at The Sturiale Place is just big enough for a chef and one or two kitchen staff. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • The newly renovated kitchen at The Sturiale Place is just big enough for a chef and one or two kitchen staff.

The pair aims to open the cafe in May, and Rita's vision is simple: She wants to serve lunch and deli items four days a week, along with occasional dinners, wine tastings and teas, and hopes for a small menu stacked with classic Italian dishes alongside seasonal chef specials.

"The chef will have a lot of room for growth, for his own creativity and his own passion," Gina said.

The mother-daughter team hopes this freedom, along with the opportunity to work limited hours, will woo an experienced chef from a busy restaurant who will work with a few staff members in the cafe's kitchen, a small space converted from a pair of bedrooms.

"This is what I love, and I want someone in here to be able to do what they love," Rita said. "Then it will really be magic."


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