The new restaurant Ciao Italia Ristorante + Mercato, offering authentic Italian cuisine, opened in Durham last Saturday.
The Ciao Italia team and owner Doug Clark are preparing to open up a portion of their indoor seating in conjunction with phase two of Governor Chris Sununu’s social distancing guidelines on June 15th. Ciao Italia currently has five tables available for outside seating as well as the option of curbside pickup through their website. When indoor seating comes into play, Clark said they’ll be able to accommodate another 40 percent of their 106 available seats.
The restaurant had a successful opening on Saturday, quickly receiving as many as 25 online orders at once. The decision was made to shut the website down and allow the kitchen to catch up, but Clark said overall there was a great response from the public.
The transition from the first to the second day was very smooth, according to Clark. They have it down to a science, he said, where they can maintain as many as ten online orders at a time, properly pacing the kitchen to have the most success. In addition to the streamlining of the ordering process, Clark said they are also working on tweaking certain menu items to adjust to the takeout style and ensure customers get the best value.
Customers also have access to the Ciao Italia market, where they offer general goods including dry pasta, breads, meats, cheeses and more.
Ciao Italia took the place of The Knot Pub that closed in the spring of 2019, but Clark said he intended this restaurant to be a change of pace from Durham’s other restaurants.
Clark said that while Durham used to be a 50-50 divide between adult residents and students of the University of New Hampshire (UNH), that has changed to be overwhelmingly students in the last 10 to 20 years.
“Durham was an amazing town before the university,” Clark said. He said Durham has lost its identity as a town, and he wants to reclaim some of Durham for its residents: “to recolonize Durham village with adults.”
According to Clark, Ciao Italia is one of the first steps to turning Durham into a “metropolis,” with the addition of four adult restaurants, one being a more American style spot that he plans on opening in the future.
Clark said he welcomes the students to Ciao Italia, but said it is an upscale adult restaurant above all: he said he wanted it to be diverse from the types of restaurants that are available in Durham, and said it is a great place for students to bring dates or their parents.
Clark called Ciao Italia a “teaching restaurant,” and he said the intent behind the spot is to provide an experience that is both traditional and authentic Italian – and to show off more than just pasta and red sauce.
There is no Chicken Parmesan on the menu, for example, because it is a more “Americanized” Italian favorite. Instead, a few of the most popular items so far include a Bolognese with meat sauce, linguine with peas and prosciutto or spaghetti with pesto.
Ciao Italia’s menu options include the traditional Mediterranean style of eating, in multiple courses. They offer smaller pasta portions as well as medium sized salads, allowing customers to try different items without becoming too full.
The recipes and concepts come from famed chef Mary Ann Esposito, who signed a licensing agreement with Clark for the use of the name and the craft.
The cellar that formerly housed The Knot Bar will be used as a wine cellar, according to Clark, as well as a function hall to hold tastings and eventually cooking programs based on Esposito’s teachings. Clark said these events won’t be up and running until next fall.
The main floor of the building has been entirely remodeled to fit the traditional and authentic Italian feel that Clark was going for. He said the market entrance was meant to be a transition from the streets of Durham to the Ciao Italia experience – something like Florence or Rome. The restaurant also has a brand new 1000 square foot kitchen.
Clark said Ciao Italia also plans on maintaining a relationship with UNH’s Hospitality program with short term opportunities for experience as well as longer term semester long internship programs. Clark said he hopes to hire the “best and brightest” UNH has to offer.
“We are so excited to be a part of Durham and the surrounding communities and we’re looking forward to showing everyone what Ciao Italia has to offer,” UNH senior health management and policy major and new Ciao Italia employee Casey Clickener said.
Looking ahead to whenever restaurants can open fully again, Clark said he expects the takeout business in general to be more prosperous than it has been in the past. He appreciates the business he feels it will bring, but doesn’t want people to miss out on the Ciao Italia experience.