There is a moment when the doors of a new restaurant open for the first time, and the operators wonder whether anyone will show up, Mike Monen said.
"You always get anxious," Monen, who opened Community Pie this week, said.
But, so far, the week has gone smoothly, and people have shown up to try the restaurant's Neapolitan pizza, handcrafted gelato and craft beers.
Monen, along with some other business partners, has purchased the space where Niko's Southside Grill was located.
He said owners are currently in the process of showing it to potential leasers and have some people who are interested. Negotiations may begin soon, he said.
The plan is to lease the bottom floor for restaurant space and the top floor for office space, Monen also said.
Neapolitan pizza is authentic Italian pizza that the Monens' team will cook in wood-fired ovens that heat up to about 900 degrees. At that temperature, the pizzas can cook in 60 to 90 seconds, Monen said.
He and his wife, Taylor, already own two successful Chattanooga restaurants—Urban Stack and Taco Mamacita.
Another new Monen venture, Milk and Honey, is supplying the gelato to Community Pie. Eventually, it will also be a retail store.
"Milk and Honey will be serving gelato in this restaurant, hopefully starting early next week," Monen said. "We won't open as a retail store until sometime in March."
For the past three weeks, the Community Pie team worked in the kitchen, training and preparing for opening day, and Monen said their work paid off—the first few days have gone smoothly.
And, especially considering the restaurant has only been open on rainy weekdays, Monen said attendance has been strong. There was even a short wait one night, he said.
"We were slammed," he said. "We were surprised at how busy we were."
Thursday night, the restaurant was full, despite earlier reports that it would be a snowy evening.
Paige Wiencke, an employee at UTC's records office, was one of the people who visited the new restaurant on opening night, she said.
She said the restaurant was "busy and lively" but that her group didn't have to wait long to be seated.
The restaurant no longer resembled Market Street Tavern, which is what the space had been before, Wiencke said.
"The interior is beautiful—the colors of the Italian flag make up most of the color palette, and it’s very tastefully done," she said via email. "They’ve obviously tried hard to keep it from being too loud and echo-y inside and definitely succeeded. I had no trouble hearing either the music or the other people at my table."
Wiencke had the Margherita pizza that came with fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, tomatoes and basil, she said. She would have loved to try something more unique, but she is a vegetarian and said her options were a little more "tame."
The pizza was delicious and the beer selection extensive, though maybe slightly expensive, she said. But they do have a $2 beer selection, she also pointed out.
"Overall, it was a really nice experience," she said. "The service was speedy, efficient and friendly. I can confidently say I’m looking forward to trying it again."