RICHMOND, Va. -- Angela Petruzzelli is about to open her dream Italian restaurant Sprezza in downtown Richmond. When she moved to Richmond with her boyfriend in 2020, she recognized restaurants that served Italian food, but the style of Italian food they served was not the kind she preferred.
"[Italian] food is not only something I relate so strongly to, but it's something that I felt was missing here. And so the minute I moved to Richmond, I knew immediately that I could bring what I grew up eating here," Petruzzelli said. "Obviously I say this with so much respect for the Italian food that already exists here, but I think that Richmond was missing authentic Italian food, Italian food that you would find in Italy, Italian food that I grew up eating that my Nonna used to make."
Petruzzelli's family is from Southern coastal Italy where seafood rules.
"We love linguine alle vongole (linguine with clams). We do a lot of cozze which are muscles. A lot of octopus, a lot of sea urchin," she said. 'It's an acquired taste, but when you put it in pasta, it's so velvety and so perfect like it's just the best thing ever. You don't find it that much in the United States, so I'm so excited to do that."
Shortly after moving to Richmond from Miami, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the city.
"Honestly, it took me a year and a half to know that people even lived in Richmond. When we moved here, [her boyfriend's] company put us up in Short Pump and it was a ghost town. We would go to Short Pump mall, and obviously, the stores were all closed. We would just walk around and be like, 'Wow, what a nice mall. It's so sad no one is here," she said.
It was during that time of isolation that the idea of Sprezza was born.
"He was working from home. And I was like, 'Oh, we live in an apartment complex and nobody's leaving their houses, I could start selling trays of lasagna,'" she said. "Then I started doing more research and I started becoming a little bit more reasonable with what I could actually do. And I saw the pop-up [restaurant] scene was crazy here."
After establishing a social media presence and reaching out to people already entrenched in Richmond restaurants, Petruzzelli began hosting Sprezza pop-ups.
It did not take long for word to spread and for her events to sell out.
"It was me making all the food from front to end and then [my boyfriend] putting it in the bags and handing it off to customers. That's how we went for six or seven months," she said. "[We sold out pop-ups] every time for almost a year and a half now. I've never not sold out. I mean if that's not a sign to go for it. I don't know what it is."
In Petruzzelli's case, going for it means opening Sprezza -- the restaurant.
She found a location where the old Morton's once served steaks in Shockoe Slip.
"I want it to feel elevated and really special. I don't want it to feel like an Olive Garden or a Cheesecake Factory. I want it also to be a place where you come and you're comfortable," she said. "In Italy a white tablecloth is standard. So I want it to be a place where you go and have an amazing, phenomenal meal. But I want it to be a place where you can also go and you don't feel uncomfortable hanging out for two and a half hours and drinking four bottles of wine and getting a little loud."
She hopes to have Sprezza up and running by the end of 2022.
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