“Not enough business to support it”

AVONDALE — The owners of Avondale restaurant Pisolino turned the Italian restaurant into a market in 2020 to survive the pandemic.

The turnaround was successful at the time, but ultimately wasn’t enough to save the small business.

Pisolino Italian Market is closing after seven years on Belmont Avenue in Avondale, the owners announced on social media this week. The last working day of the Italian market is September 25.

Pisolino is hosting a pizza party from 3 to 7 p.m. Sept. 25 with heavily discounted food items as a “last hurray” and to thank customers for their support, co-owner Rachel De Marte said.

Pizzolino was struggling with foot traffic before the pandemic, and that “battle has picked up once the world has reopened and people have had so many more options,” De Marte said.

The main point “was our salvation, but at this point none of that — whatever the combination is — if it was just dine-in, takeout, market — there’s not enough business to sustain it,” she said.

De Marte, who also owns and operates her own event planning company, opened Pisolino at 2755 W. Belmont Ave. with her ex-husband James De Marte in 2016. James De Marte is an Italian chef.

Pisolino serves rustic Italian cuisine and drinks, including Pugliese-style pizza, breakfast paninos and quartino wines.

In the summer of 2020, a few months after the city shut down due to the pandemic, the owners shifted gears and turned the restaurant into an Italian market with imported groceries, takeout and a deli stand.

CONNECTED: Avondale Restaurant turns into Pisolino Italian Market with wine, pasta, olive oil and more

That concept did “really well” for a while, Rachel DeMarte said. Customers were also placing large catering orders to help businesses weather the pandemic, she said.

“We’re going to load up the SUVs with the orders,” she said. “That really helped with that. Although there was a struggle, during that struggle there was a continuous business.

But when that business disappeared, Pizzolino struggled to attract enough customers to stay open, De Marte said.

Although Pizzolino received relief from programs like the Wage Protection Program and the Economic Damages Disaster Loan, it wasn’t enough to cover all of their expenses, De Marte said. Large restaurant groups were able to make millions of dollars through government programs while small business owners were left to struggle, she said.

“All that big money went to the big restaurant groups. That’s where I really find it lacking,” De Marte said. “They have so many and they’re big bands so they already have so much support and the little ones don’t. To see it distributed like that – that was probably the most infuriating thing about the whole process.

Either way, Pizzolino has run his course and it’s time to move on, De Marte said. After the market closes, she plans to throw all her energy into her event planning company, which is booming, she said.

Avondale ended up being a “difficult” neighborhood for a high-end Italian restaurant and market, and the concept might have been better suited to a neighborhood like Lincoln Park, De Marte said.

“The [customers] the ones we had were phenomenal – there just weren’t enough of them,” Rachel DeMarte said. “It’s bittersweet. … Nothing lasts forever.”

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