By Sarah E. Moran
Special to CC
The culinary smorgasbord that is West Chester is about to become even more varied with the addition of two new restaurants about three blocks apart.
They are Nonna’s: A Giunta Tradition, in the 100 block of East Gay Street, and Indian Thai Spice Bistro, in the 100 block of West Market Street.
Both are slated to open later this month.
Marisa Giunta Powell and husband Sean are the movers-and-shakers behind Nonna’s, which will serve Italian fare in the space once occupied by Alberto’s Trattoria. The restaurant is named for Marisa Powell’s maternal grandmother, Anne DiFilippo. (“Nonna” means grandmother in Italian).
Her father’s family was the longtime owner of Giunta’s grocery store in East Bradford.
The Powells opened Pietro’s Prime two years ago, an upscale steakhouse and martini bar just down West Market Street from where Rajesh Ishwar and Navarat Ratanakanaka are readying Indian Thai Spice Bistro, also their second location.
Their first, with the same name, opened in Edgmont, Delaware County, in July 2008.
Real estate developer Stanford Zukin owns both the Nonna’s and Pietro’s Prime buildings, as well as many other borough buildings.
Nonna’s will have 160 seats and, beginning next spring, several outside tables. Executive chef is Tami Oelkrug, who moves from Pietro’s Prime to take over the whisks at Nonna’s. Sean Powell will remain at Pietro’s Prime while Marisa Powell will spend all her time at Nonna’s getting the place off on the right foot.
Fare will be Italian, with many recipes adapted from Marisa Powell’s two grandmothers. (Paternal grandmother Grandma Giunta long made the fresh meatballs at Giunta’s, with Sean Powell at her side as the supermarket’s in-house chef.)
Oelkrug will put her own twist on Nonna’s dishes, including her specialty, a lobster and shrimp risotto.
The restaurant bought Alberto’s liquor license and will employ 25 to 30 people.
The Powells have given Alberto’s a facelift, painting walls in soothing earth tones, putting in new flooring and updating the kitchen. They also installed a draft beer system, and will offer live entertainment Thursday through Saturday nights. Dinner only will be served at first, with lunches Monday through Friday to follow.
The pair, who live in West Whiteland, have spent about $80,000 readying Nonna’s.
Asked about starting a new eatery in the midst of the Great Recession, Marisa Powell responded, “We don’t know anything different, to be honest. We opened Pietro’s Prime at the beginning of the recession and we have no way of knowing how much busier we’d be if the economy were better.”
Meanwhile, Indian Thai Spice Bistro offers 85 seats and has been completely revamped since its former life as part of the Cosi restaurant chain. Walls reflect the colors of Indian and Thai cooking, from saffron to curry and mango, banquettes are covered in subtle padded printed fabric and pleated metal mesh screens divide the open space into more intimate sections.
Ishwar and Ratanakanaka met when both were computer consultants in the area. He is the strategic planner and she is “good at getting things done,” she said with a laugh, even though she attributed “the crazy idea of opening a restaurant” to him.
“I thought about opening a restaurant for six or seven years before I did so,” Ishwar, a Media resident, responded. “It’s not something to approach lightly.”
The restaurant has two kitchens, one for Indian specialties helmed by veteran chef Premnath Motiram, the other with Thai chef Patama Punsuk in charge.
The business partners have spent in the low six figures on renovations, including the installation of a traditional Indian clay oven, or tandoori. Landlord is long-time Chester County restaurateur Jack McFadden, who owns The Gables in Pennsbury.
With a bright teal and red awning out front, the BYOB Indian Thai Spice Bistro will serve lunch and dinner seven days a week.