By Melanie J. Knox, Opinion Editor
Harry is a builder and good with numbers. Barry is Italian and more creative. Together, Harry and Barry hope they have the perfect mix to make their new restaurant, di’ Italia, a smash hit.
Barry Pupella, financial aid counselor for the university, had dreamed of owning a coffee shop for 10 years.
When a friend told him Schlotzsky’s Deli was closing, Pupella brought the coffee shop idea to his buddy in the office, Harry Tritt, assistant financial aid director.
“Everything just started falling into place,” Pupella said. “God’s hand was in all of this because we would have never been able to open this up if this were just a typical coffee shop. … Everything from the building location, the equipment that we were able to purchase, fell into our hands at a great price-and my finding Harry,” he said, laughing.
Tritt expanded on Pupella’s dream of a coffee shop and talked about adding more food to the menu.
“I knew that I wanted to do something that would take us through the whole day,” Tritt said. “That’s when Barry got the idea of doing the sandwiches. Just from an accounting standpoint, we wanted to have something more than just putting all your eggs in one basket.”
The simplicity of the sandwiches appealed to both, so they also can serve lunch.
The setup of the building was modeled after European auto-malls, delis that can feed 160 people in 20 minutes.
“The concept is so unique,” Pupella said. “That’s really what we’ve tried to do on a real small scale.”
Pupella and Tritt did most all the remodeling themselves. Tritt, who built his own house and swimming pool, took two weeks off from work and started tearing down walls and ceilings.
“If anyone had seen the old Schlotzsky’s and seen what it looks like now, they could definitely tell there’s been a lot of things transformed,” Pupella said.
The tiles, alternately black and white, fit with the black ceiling and the half-black, half-white walls. The red and black tables and chairs off-set the black and white.
Red and green splatter paint covers the backs of the chairs, fan blades, speakers, air vents and the front of the counter.
“When we told consultants we were going black and white and we were going to splatter-paint our walls and chairs red and green, they couldn’t hardly believe the concept,” Tritt said. “But I think it works really well. It’s fun, but it’s not overdone.”
Searching for the best
Phillip Cole, assistant manager, has managed several other coffee shops in town and said he’d never worked in a coffee shop that sold food or had a specific atmosphere.
“The other coffee shops had no direction,” he said. “The Italian atmosphere is different. It has a certain flavor about it.”
Pupella and Tritt said they didn’t want to run the typical coffee shop, in design or in product.
Because they saved money by doing the construction themselves, they spared no expense on food, Tritt said.
They searched all over the country to find the perfect gelato-a creamy, rich Italian ice cream.
“Most people that serve gelato are using artificial flavors and syrups,” Tritt said. “This product is nothing like that. This is true, all natural milk and sugar made the Italian way.”
Even the water cost almost $1,800. It is purified through reverse osmosis and tasteless, so customers can get the flavor of the coffee, smoothie or ice cream.
“We have absolutely no doubt that it’s hard to beat our taste anywhere in America,” Tritt said.
And on Nov. 4, after two years of planning and working and no real advertising, they opened their doors to the public.
And the public responded.
Cole said the line was consistently from the register to the door.
“We did way, way, way beyond our expectations,” Tritt said. “A lot of people came in and said that they’d seen the word gelato and could not wait for the paper to come off the window.”
That wasn’t the only surprise. The lunch and dinner crowd has been so consistent that they had to scramble quickly, learning how to order.
“We’re coffee guys,” Tritt said. “Coffee was the whole concept, along with the gelato, and now we’re turning into kind of a big sandwich shop.”
Pupella said that he and Tritt love being out in the restaurant with students and other customers.
“We have a lot of fun,” Pupella said. “We start throwing out funny, Italian stuff. One of our big sayings so far has been, ‘It’s so good it makes you want to slap yourself.'”
Said Tritt, who joked about changing his name to Trittillini to fit in with the Italian theme:
“If you’re really nice to your palette, you’ll come to di’ Italia.”