Six months after opening on Nov. 19, 2007, the Luna Rosa Gelato Cafe owners were looking for a bigger space, says Jose Ortiz, catering manager.
And now that their 10-year lease is almost up, they’ve found it — the former Bellacino’s Pizza & Grinders at 123 S. Main St. that closed Dec. 31. Luna Rosa will move from its 1,100-square-foot location at 9 W. Washington St. to the new spot across from the Westin Poinsett Hotel in mid-to-late June if the construction and permitting stay on schedule.
Luna Rosa has been a joint family venture of Richard and Linda Schweitzer and their daughter and her husband, Lauren and Jose Ortiz, since the beginning, and having signed a long-term lease for the new location, this move solidifies their dedication to growing the family business in downtown Greenville.
Ortiz says that although they’ve looked at many different spaces to move, they’ve been eyeing the Bellacino’s one for about two years because of its location in a prime pedestrian territory and the additional usable space totaling more than twice the size of the current cafe.
“It is the ideal location for our particular concept — visibility, size, scope,” he says.
The additional space with a full kitchen will allow for a menu increase of about 35 percent and the addition of dinner service. That means more pasta, seafood, steak, and burgers while scaling back on sandwiches, Ortiz says. Linda Schweitzer, who cooks everything from scratch in the small kitchen, is developing all of the new recipes.
“Many things we haven’t been able to do here because of capacity and size that we intended from day one,” Ortiz says.
The menu expansion also includes a full bar, which will feature blended concoctions using Luna Rosa’s gelato and fruit, and original cocktails designed to be paired with the food.
“This is what we consider good Southern Italian comfort food in a great atmosphere with great service,” Ortiz says. “We have the incomparable Trattoria Giorgio next door, so I feel like we can really complement what they’re doing, a little more mid-level to their dining.”
Ortiz says they’ve already introduced themselves to the staff at the iconic fine-dining Italian restaurant that shares a wall with them, and that he looks forward to their continued relationship.
The new Luna Rosa will continue with counter service for house-made gelato and seated lunch and dinner service. The front half of the store will be designated for the gelato counter, and the back half will be dedicated to dining-room seating and a full bar. Indoor seating will total about 60, with a planned outdoor patio extension off the back that may seat 30 to 50, depending on what the kitchen can handle, Ortiz says.
Richard Schweitzer, who designed the brightly colored, modular Italian look of the current store, is spearheading the design of the new location with the help of DP3 Architects.
“Each space from a creative standpoint dictates its own,” Ortiz says. “We are carrying over a lot of the design elements, but it will be a little more upscale and comfortable.”
The plan calls for keeping some of the original woodwork and restoring it to its original luster and also returning the mirrored shelving on the wall.
“Things that we learned from being in such a small space here is how to be extremely efficient with our space, and [we] learned a lot of lessons about storage and turnover and keeping everything fresh,” Ortiz says. “I mean, great lessons. Going into another space, we are going to be extremely efficient with every inch.”
Ortiz says they will be looking to hire more front- and back-of-house employees in the near future.
“We pride ourselves on what I consider some of the best hospitality and service in downtown, so we want to maintain that in a larger space,” Ortiz says. “It’s easier to do in a small space, but we’ll do our best to maintain that in a larger space.”
Training new staff in the family’s tradition of hospitality will be the highest priority.
“We’re a small, family-owned place that lives and dies by the thought that each person who walks through our door should be treated like a guest in our home,” Ortiz says.