"When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore." Walk into Vitta Pizza, and you just might hear Dean Martin crooning "That's Amore" as owner Brad Erickson happily scoops out a hot pizza from the wood-fired oven with a long-handle...
"When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore."
Walk into Vitta Pizza, and you just might hear Dean Martin crooning "That's Amore" as owner Brad Erickson happily scoops out a hot pizza from the wood-fired oven with a long-handled pizza paddle.
And if you like Dean Martin, stick around. You might hear Frank Sinatra singing "All of Me," Louis Armstrong doing "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" and Ray Charles' "Hit the Road Jack."
It's all part of the upbeat atmosphere that greets customers at the new eatery in the former Northern Lights Books & Gifts store in Duluth's Canal Park serving authentic Italian pizza. The limited service restaurant -- you order and pickup at the counter -- opened in June after 3½ month of remodeling.
"So far, business has been phenomenal," said Erickson, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Christie. "We've been well received by tourists and locals."
On a recent weekday afternoon, more than half the tables were filled as well as a couple of tables in the outdoor seating area. Many were enjoying the restaurant's signature 9-inch Neapolitan-style pizza that Erickson said he can cook in 97 seconds. Cost for the personal-size specialty pizzas ranges from $7.50 to $11.75. There also is a 5-inch kids' version, various salads on the menu and beer and wine.
No signs of the bookstore remain at 307 Canal Park Drive, which has been totally transformed into the pizzeria. The eating area, which seats about 25, is decorated in shades of green, with dark mauve accenting an old brick wall. But the centerpiece -- the wood-fired oven from Italy, fronted with glimmering black tile -- is behind the counter for easy viewing.
"I love pizza," Erickson said during a lull. "This is Neapolitan style, a very distinct style of pizza 'that's kissed by the flames.' "
Neapolitan pizza is a lighter pizza that goes easy on the toppings so the taste of the cheese and homemade sauce comes through. At Vitta Pizza, the pizza is made with homemade dough using flour from Italy that can withstand super-hot ovens, San Marzano tomatoes from Italy, fresh (not aged) mozzarella, sea salt and extra virgin olive oil.
For Erickson, running his own restaurant is a dream come true.
"I've always wanted to do it," he said, adding that the time seemed right since his 401(k) was losing so much money.
He was serious.
At 42, he has had 22 years of restaurant experience and was itching to be on his own.
"To be self-employed is the American dream to me," he said.
He had served as general manager of the Sunset Bar & Grill for six years and before that, 10 years at the Timber Lodge Steakhouse. He had gotten his start as a bartender at the Canal Park Inn six years earlier.
But more than his ailing 401(k) suggested the time was right.
One of the owners of the Sunset also owns the building Vitta Pizza is in, he explained. When Erickson learned the bookstore owner was closing last winter, he jumped at the opportunity to open a restaurant there.
Combine good pizza with Canal Park, now that's a good fit, he said.