AVONDALE — The owners of Avondale restaurant Pisolino transformed the Italian eatery into a market in 2020 to survive the pandemic.
The pivot was successful at the time, but it ultimately wasn’t enough to save the small business.
Pisolino Italian Market is closing after seven years on Avondale’s Belmont Avenue, the owners announced on social media this week. The Italian market’s last day of business is Sept. 25.
Pisolino is hosting a pizza party 3-7 p.m. Sept. 25 with deeply discounted grocery items as a “last hurrah,” and to thank their customers for their support, co-owner Rachel De Marte said.
Pisolino struggled with foot traffic before the pandemic, and that “battle resumed once the world opened back up and people had so many more options,” De Marte said.
The pivot “was our saving grace, but at this point, none of it — whatever combination it is — if it were just dine-in, carryout, a 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 served rustic Italian cuisine and drinks, including Pugliese-style pizza, breakfast paninos and wines by the quartino.
In summer 2020, a few months after the pandemic shutdown the city, the owners switched gears and converted the restaurant into an Italian market with imported grocery items, to-go meals and a deli counter.
That concept did “really well” for a while, Rachel De Marte said. Customers were also placing large catering orders to help the business pull through the pandemic, she said.
“We’d load up SUVs with the orders,” she said. “That really helped through that. While there was a struggle, there was nonstop business during that struggle.”
But when that business wore off, Pisolino struggled to attract the number of customers it needed to stay open, De Marte said.
While Pisolino received relief from programs like the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, they weren’t enough to cover all of their expenses, De Marte said. Large restaurant groups were able to score millions of dollars through the 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 fault,” De Marte said. “They got so much, and they’re big groups so they already have so much backing, and the little guys don’t. To see it allocated that way — that was probably the most maddening thing in the whole process.”
Either way, Pisolino has run its course, and it’s time to move on, De Marte said. Once the market closes, she plans to throw all of her energy into her event planning company, which is thriving, she said.
Avondale was ultimately a “tough” neighborhood for a high-end Italian restaurant and market, and the concept may have been better suited for a neighborhood like Lincoln Park, De Marte said.
“The [customers] we had were phenomenal — there just weren’t enough of them,” Rachel De Marte said. “It’s bittersweet. … Nothing lasts forever.”
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