For the office crowd that works near Broad & High, Cafe Napolitana is a familiar lunchtime destination when you’re in the mood for pizza by the slice. The restaurant originally opened their in 1992 with eventual plans to become a full-service late night restaurant and neighborhood bar. It took a little longer than expected, but owners Palmo and Deanne Aracri are finally making the conversion after twenty years in business.
We spoke recently with Palmo to find out more about the later hours, the new bar and why their business is changing after operating for two whole decades. Read on for our full interview:
Q: First, can you tell us a bit about the history of Cafe Napolitana?
A: I was born in Calabria,Italy and my entire family has been in the food business for over 100 years, both in Italy and the United States. I personally have been in the food business for over 30 years, and we currently have a family restaurant in Downtown Cincinnati called Trattoria Roma. I started out working for my brothers in Louisiana and Mississippi, and I bought my first shop when I was 23 in McComb, Mississippi. My wife Dee and I started a family and decided that we wanted to move closer to the rest our families. So in 1992, we landed in Columbus, and Pizza Napolitana opened on May 26 of 1992, located at 20 North High Street. We specialized in pizza by the slice for Downtowners. In August of 2000, we moved to 40 North High Street and changed the name to Cafe Napolitana.
Q: Other than the relocation in 2000, how has the business changed, grown and evolved over the years?
A: Well, we started out with a minimal menu, and adapted to the downtown crowd. Our location at 20 North High had its trials and tribulations over the years, but we had a very loyal following. To date, I see them stand in line and know most by name. The relocation of bus stops, the development of Capital Crossroads SID and Capitol South, and the progression of “Downtown Living” has all had a positive effect on our business. I believe that the quality of my food is what keeps my line long at lunch, and keeps people coming back. I’m sure my sterling personality helps too.
After the move in 2000, the new location gave the business a rear entrance from the alleyway, which let us start delivering during lunch hours. We needed room to grow into the restaurant that I aways dreamed of owning. My sales increased as I started adding hours. In 2010, we decided to renovate, add a bar, and update the dining rooms. And we still have plenty of change yet to come as Downtown Columbus continues to grow.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about the latest expansion of your hours and the addition of the bar?
A: We are still open for lunch, Monday through Friday from 11am to 3pm, serving slices and other specialities. From 3 to 4pm we close to set up for dinner. On Monday and Tuesday we reopen from 4pm to 8pm, and Wednesday through Friday we open from 4pm to 10pm. Also, our happy hour runs Monday through Friday from 4pm to 6pm. On Saturday we are open from 11am to 10pm. Individual slices are not available at night and Saturdays, but we have replaced them with a 9-inch pizza, which is half price for happy hour during the week. We’re closed on Sundays for now, but will add Sunday dining in the future.
We have applied for a full alcohol license, but currently are only serving beer. We expect our wine and alcohol license to arrive soon. Adding the bar has been a great focal point and has brought in a lot of new Downtown residents and visitors. We offer 312, Red Hook, Shocktop, Yuengling, and a large variety of bottled beers. Soon we will offer a house wine, and a small selection of whites and reds to compliment our dishes. We will have the usual mixed drinks and add a few specialties to the mix.
Q: Beyond pizza, what other menu items can be found at Cafe Napolitana?
A: Being open for dinner has given us the opportunity to expand our menu and focus on great Southern Italian pasta dishes. We still offer whole pizzas, calzone, stromboli, subs, and salads. We have also added desserts and appetizers at night. All of our dishes are made fresh to order, including our homemade alfredo sauce, which has become very popular.
We want our lunch crowd customers to come back down with their families on the weekends or evenings and enjoy a great family atmosphere and great quality food. This has always been my dream, to offer a true family-style pizzeria where mom and dad can get a beer while they share a great pizza with their kids.
Q: Any other big plans for the near future?
A: In the future we will be adding a front patio and a large rear patio. We also will be offering the dining room for private parties. We just started delivering to the Residence Inn on Gay Street at night, and will hopefully be adding the Renaissance and Courtyard hotels to the mix soon.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: We are truly a family business, and most customers have watched our four children grow up here in the pizza shop. Currently three of them are here working at either lunch or dinner. As a family, we take great pride in serving the Downtown crowd. We strive to welcome everyone and make them feel like one of our family.
More information can be found online at www.cafenapolitana.com.