Chef Michael White has plans to reinvent his critically maligned pizzeria Nicoletta as a fast-casual chain.
The original East Village location closed last month after nearly seven years, EV Grieve first reported. and now, his restaurant group Altamarea Group is searching for one or two downtown venues to open a counter-service version of the Midwestern-Neopolitan pizza shop, with little to no seating and a focus on takeout and delivery, a spokesperson tells Eater.
Currently, the pizzeria is running a delivery-only operation from its sister restaurant Osteria Morini in Soho with an expanded menu that includes more salads and entrees like branzino and gnocchi.
Nicoletta — which opened at 160 Second Ave. on Tenth Street in 2012 — had trouble filling the 50-seat space with sit-down diners, a spokesperson says. Delivery and takeout accounted for over 70 percent of the restaurant’s revenue, prompting Nicoletta to focus on that.
It’s not an unfamiliar move for White, who similarly converted his upscale Italian restaurant Costata into a delivery-only operation after its physical location closed in 2015. In 2016, he specifically launched a delivery-only concept called Pasta On Demand, which was born from a partnership with UberEats. Both of those restaurants are still operating — Costata out of a kitchen at Osteria Morini and Pasta on Demand out of Ristorante Morini.
When Nicoletta’s original East Village outpost opened, critics weren’t too impressed; it was quickly dubbed the black sheep of White’s Altamarea Group. Pete Wells of the Times wasn’t a fan of the pizza when he reviewed the restaurant in 2012, saying “the pies are overburdened conglomerations of cheese, flour and fistfuls of other stuff; in the end, the elements cancel one another out.”
Other negative reviews followed; the restaurant landed a spot on Eater’s Deathwatch in 2013. But Nicoletta managed to keep its doors open until the very end of 2018, and in the meantime, opened a location in New Jersey and inside a Pennsylvania mall, as well as a stall in Citi Field stadium.
But White is entering a fast-casual pizza market that’s far more competitive than it was seven years ago. D.C.-based &pizza and LeBron James-backed Blaze have both since opened, not to mention NYC is still packed with slice joints. Last month, Danny Meyer switched his fast-casual pizzeria Martina into a full-service operation, and California fast-casual pizza chain Pieology closed in less than a year.
The 1,700-square-foot space Nicoletta used to occupy is now up for rent, with an asking rate of $176 per square foot, totaling about $25,000 per month, according to an online listing.