La Norma expected to open in former location of Ciao Italia! by the end of February.
The owners of Italian restaurant Isola Bella in Holmes Beach have purchased Ciao! Italia in the Centre Shops of Longboat Key, where they said they plan to open their second restaurant, La Norma, by the end of February.
Isola owner Gianfranco Santagati confirmed he bought Ciao Italia! from owner Carmine Astuto who has been a fixture in town for more than 20 years. Ciao Italia! closed earlier this month without notice, leaving many wondering what had happened.
Astuto did not return telephone calls. Turned up chairs and tables were visible inside Ciao Italia! last week. There were no signs or notices outside announcing its closure.
“I was surprised,” said Nanni Mirchandani, the owner of neighboring Longboat Resort Wear, when asked about Ciao Italia!. “I hope everything is all right.”
“My wife wanted to be near the water. And we like Longboat Key. It’s a good place to raise a child.”
Robbie Ball, owner of the Blue Dolphin, called Astuto a great guy and was disappointed to see him leave.
Santagati and wife, Alessandra, both natives of Sicily, moved to the United States two years ago. Santagati, who grew up in the restaurant business, said they chose Florida because of the weather.
The Anna Maria Island community was chosen because it is small and is by the water.
“Our 5-year-old son goes to Anna Maria Elementary,” he said. “America is the land of opportunity.”
Longboat was chosen as the location of their second restaurant because it is far enough away from Isola Bella – Italian for beautiful island – so they would not be competing against themselves.
“My wife wanted to be near the water,” he said. “And we like Longboat Key. It’s a good place to raise a child.”
La Norma was chosen by Santagati as the name for his new venture because it is the name of a popular Sicilian dish, Pasta alla Norma, which is comprised of fried eggplant, macaroni, tomatoes, basil and ricotta cheese. Norma is also an Italian opera that dates back to the early 1800s.
Santagati said La Norma’s menu will offer some dishes with what he describes as a “Sicilian twist.” In Sicily, for example, a slice of fresh prosciutto is placed on each layer of lasagna.
Diners at La Norma can expect to spend $40 to $50 each, he said. It is expected to mirror Isola Bella’s menu which offers numerous pasta dishes including Pescatora, Primavera, Chicken Marsala, Chicken Parmigiana, ravioli, homemade meatballs, pizzas and salads. All of the dishes are made by Santagati.
“We’re a mom-and-pop restaurant,” he said.
La Norma will seat 50 people inside and 20 outside in the courtyard.
“I am doing my best to be open in February before the end of the month,” Santagati said.