SOUTHINGTON — Zingarella Pizzeria & Ice Cream Cafe, a fixture of Plantsville center for 11 years, will permanently close its doors on Feb. 14.
Citing fewer customers, increasing food costs, and what they say is an oversaturated restaurant market in Southington, the owners have opted to finally shut their doors following four turbulent years for the food industry.
Having poured his life savings into the venture, owner Mark Zommer said he was heartbroken over the decision, but was no longer able to operate the business with the current challenges facing the industry.
With the retirement of executive chef Angelo DiDomenico, who has helped tailor the menu of the restaurant since its opening day, Zommer saw it as the best time to close.
“It breaks my heart to say goodbye to this part of my life. It’s been a memorable journey. The people I’ve met along the way and the relationships that have blossomed will be difficult to leave behind,” Zommer said in a statement on Facebook.
Zommer plans to sell the property to another owner to develop it into another eatery, hoping to add something meaningful to the Plantsville community in Zingarella’s absence.
“It kills me. I mean, not only did I grow up in Southington, I was born and raised. I made so many friends and met so many people, and it really, really stinks. Because I think it's one of the best restaurants in town, yet we're not making enough money to keep our doors open,” said Zommer.
According to Zommer, the business has seen transportation costs for food triple — items that they use every week, making it a compounding expense that it’s difficult to keep up with. He’s unwilling to change the restaurant’s prices to make up for the difference, saying it’s unreasonable to expect customers to pay $25 for a chicken parmesan dinner with ongoing economic issues impacting people across the board.
Another major issue is the oversaturation of corporate businesses in Southington, the restaurant staff said. They laid the closure of Zingarella on the Southington Planning and Zoning Commission for letting too many corporate chains into the area, not spacing out businesses, and ultimately allowing them to cannibalize the market and push out local restaurants.
Messages left for planning commission members were not returned Thursday.
Within a mile radius of Zingarella there are 10 other pizza places offering delivery, a service Zingarella doesn’t have, in exchange for a more intimate dining experience that Zommer thought was lacking from other eateries in the area.
“It's about competition. There are so many chain restaurants in Southington, let alone pizza restaurants,” said Kelsey Yount, a manager who’s been with Zingarella for seven years, “In a mile radius, there's 10 pizza places you can go and get a pizza delivered and then you don't deliver. You know, we believe in like coming in and having that intimate setting. It is a family restaurant.”
Local investors have offered money to keep the restaurant open, Zommer said, but after putting $1.7 million into the eatery he is looking to leave the food industry and return to managing his other company, Waste Material Trucking Co., full time.
“It really stings to have to close the restaurant, because I put my life savings into it. It just didn't work out,” Zommer said. “So it's going to hurt Plantsville I'm sure, but you know, the restaurant landscape in Southington does not favor sole proprietorships. Just look at Queen Street, it’s just loaded with corporate chains, and it's hard to compete … it's a losing proposition. And I've been losing money for a few years. I figured I can't do it anymore.”
“I believe the town of Southington is partly to blame, because of the number of food permits and restaurants they allow into the town. It doesn’t help restaurants, at all,” he added.
The restaurant has been a prominent feature in Plantsville, sitting on the corner of West Main and Summer streets, and a focal point of major seasonal events — Halloween and Christmas in the Village.
Barbara Coleman-Hekeler, president of the Southington Chamber of Commerce, laments the loss of Zingarella and what it means for Plantsville, being such an iconic anchor business in that section of town — and how it's indicative of the continuing struggles of the food industry well after the pandemic.
“They've been such strong chamber and community supporters. Their proximity right in the center of downtown Plantsville and on the linear path is absolutely a key location. They have an incredible restaurant with a quality menu and have always provided quality service” said Hekeler. “It's unfortunate to see any business close, particularly those that are so front and center, I think it's pretty much indicative of the time that we're in terms of the struggle for Connecticut businesses.”
Zingarella expects the community to be upset with the announcement of their closure and encourages residents to come out and pay Zingarella a visit before their closure at the end of the business day on the 14th - with all gift cards remaining valid untill that time.
Many of the staff as well have been with the restaurant for years and are saddened by the closure. Yount, after starting at the business as a server seven years ago, said he will leave the food service industry after Zingarella closes.
“We have families that have been coming since their babies have been in strollers that are now you know, teenagers. I know that the community will be very upset. I mean, it's just a great place to go like to get a pizza or to get pasta or to get a cocktail or to get an ice cream. You get the best of both worlds when you go there,” said Yount. “So I think that the people will be very upset, especially the kids. I've been we're doing Halloween and Christmas in the Village and it's my favorite time of the year just to see all the kids come down. I’m definitely going to miss it.”
Zommer opened the business 11 years ago after the closure of the previous restaurant in the space, which also served pizza. He saw that at the time there was a lack of pizza restaurants, and wanted to give residents a nice, inexpensive dining experience like before takeout pizza became popular. Despite having no prior experience in the restaurant industry, he bought the property and hired DiDomenico as his chef — the Italian immigrant bringing an authentic flair to the menu.
Despite having to close the restaurant, Zommer looks back on the experience fondly.
“There's been some wins and some losses. There's been a lot of heartache, but a lot of great relationships have come from it. And although it cost life savings, I don't regret one minute of it,” Zommer recalled.
Despite the loss of Zingarella, Zommer hopes to leave something in its place that will add to the community. Currently, he’s in talks with other prospective business owners who are looking to open up another restaurant in the building. Exactly what kind of restaurant or who will own it is yet to be determined.
The Southington Chamber of Commerce will be hosting an Economic Forecast Breakfast on Jan. 17 at the Manor Inn Restaurant from 8 to 10 a.m. to address the climate for Southington businesses and what can be done to assist struggling small business owners. Incoming state Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Alexandra Daum, will be speaking and taking questions. The Chamber hopes to start conversations to prevent the closures of other local businesses with the current economic downturn.