By Rick Palsgrove
The Wert’s Grove building will become the new home of a familiar and long time popular Groveport business.
Little Italy Pizza, which has operated at 619 Main St. for 43 years, plans to move into the Wert’s Grove building at 480 Main St. in Groveport.
The new building is part of the city of Groveport’s $7.6 million 1847 Main Project, which includes the 14,145 square foot Rarey’s Port (674 Main St.) building and the 12,184 square foot Wert’s Grove building. (Delaney’s Diner – a breakfast, lunch, brunch restaurant – will occupy space in the Rarey’s Port building by late summer.) Both buildings are city owned and construction on the structures’ exteriors is expected to be completed sometime this spring.
“We are hoping to have the new space finished by September 2022,” said Little Italy Operations Manager Avery Ward. “Sourcing of materials and labor has been difficult this year for us in the restaurant business and we’ve heard the same from our partners in the construction industry. We are hopeful to be completed by that date, but are aware we probably will face setbacks. We will occupy the entire first floor. We hope to have a smooth transition of our business with only 7 to 10 days of down time to transition and train our staff.”
Groveport Development Director Jeff Green said Little Italy’s move to the Wert’s Grove building is a great opportunity for both Little Italy and the city.
“Little Italy is a popular institution in Groveport,” said Green. “This move gives a business that is loyal to the community an opportunity to grow and expand. We’re excited about it and it is going to be really great.”
When asked why Little Italy will make the move, Ward said that the business has out grown its existing space.
“Our building means so much to my family and is a huge part of our history,” said Ward. “My grandparents (Chuck and Janet Ward) as young entrepreneurs set their eyes on our current space to take over what was Smith’s Market and turned it into Chuck’s Little Giant. They sold local produce, pantry, household items, and had a butcher shop that served Groveport for over 15 years. Chuck was given an offer to take over a pizza business one block east of our location. He did renaming it Little Italy Pizza.”
Ward said Chuck and Janet saw the sales of the grocery declining and decided to move the popular and successful pizza business into the Little Giant building.
“Forty-three years later we’ve been here ever since,” said Ward. “My dad, Nick, dedicated his life’s work to this business in this building. From working alongside his dad through his childhood into his high school years when he took over the business from his father after Chuck’s death. My dad built a longstanding relationship with our customer base that remains strong today. He passed down those core values to me, getting to know our customers and building a strong relationship with our community. It’s with those values that I was able to take our business to new heights in the last four years.”
Ward said Little Italy expanded its catering service with corporate partners in the Rickenbacker and Central Ohio area, expanded its delivery area, and offered a faster delivery service with more drivers on its team.
“We improved our product recipes and practices to ensure consistency,” said Ward. “With that said, we have grown our reach and have outgrown our space that we have. Our team works in a very tight kitchen juggling what we do so it’s been long overdue for expansion. We want to provide a fantastic service to our customers and that includes speed. At our peak times this last year we can’t meet that goal as it’s too much volume for our little space to handle. This really expedited the need for expansion.”
Ward said negotiations regarding Little Italy’s lease with the city of Groveport for the Wert’s Grove building are ongoing.
“We are still negotiating the finer details of the terms of the lease,” said Ward. “I can say we will be signing at a minimum a 10 year lease for the space. Groveport is our home and I have zero intentions of ever leaving this new space. This is going to become our new home for what is hopefully the next 43 years.”
Green said the city is awaiting the signed lease before it begins the interior construction work inside the Wert’s Grove building.
Ward said the new space will enable Little Italy to bring several new things to town.
“Most exciting that we know the community will be excited about is hand dipped ice cream,” said Ward. “We are exploring expanding our menu selection with more pasta options and salad selections and of course with hand dipped ice cream we plan to bring some great dessert selections to the table. The new space will also feature a bar and we will introduce a cocktail and alcohol menu that complements our house made specialties.”
He said the new space in the Wert’s Grove building will be modern, light, and open and will incorporate the history of Little Italy and the town. He said it will be a lively, personable experience that welcomes customers, offers a smooth experience with integrated technology, and be a place that feels like a connected community safe haven and organized oasis. The design will be modern and clean with a nod to local history coupled with a functional contemporary layout that appeals to multiple generations.
“We envision this space being a gathering space for our community,” said Ward. “At the intersection in the center of town we can’t wait to see the type of experience this space brings our guests.”
When asked what will happen to the old Little Italy building at 619 Main St., Ward said, “We are in discussions with a local couple interested in opening a coffee house/ bakery/local goods store. We think our current space will be perfect for this. We will be leasing out the space to create a new opportunity for someone looking to bring or open their business in Groveport. After we move out the new business will have the opportunity to tailor the existing space for their needs.”
Ward and the Little Italy staff like doing business in Groveport.
“Groveport is such a tight knit community.” said Ward. “Over the years I have seen so much support for not only local businesses, but support for one another in times of needs and hardships. This truly is one of the best towns to plant your roots in.”
Green said the Little Italy move, coupled with other business development, are creating energy and activity in downtown Groveport.
“Positive things we wanted to happen in the downtown are happening,” said Green.