After 71 years, Franklinton’s Italian eatery The Florentine closed its doors on Dec. 23, 2016. It was about that time a beacon appeared at local stores: jarred Florentine pasta sauces.
Opened in 1945, the restaurant was in the hands of its third generation of family: brothers Nick and Peter Penzone. While a difficult decision, the choice to close the restaurant was ultimately one that had to be made, Nick says. It was just time.
But Nick is now ensuring that The Florentine name lives on.
“I wanted to keep The Florentine name going, obviously, which means a lot to me,” he says.
The family had always talked of bottling products for store shelves, seeing other local businesses have success with similar ventures. For those that never made it to the restaurant (or miss its flavors), “I think it’s just a fun venture to do on the side to bring our family name to households,” Nick says.
Nick handmakes each batch of sauce at the commercial kitchen of ACEnet in Athens. Three varieties stock shelves: a Marinara, the classic which donned dishes at the restaurant, a Primavera with a chunkier tomato texture and green pepper, mushroom, onions and marsala wine, and a newer invention, the Tomato Cream with a little kick and a lot of spice.
“Samples I’ve done at stores, customers really seemed to like that one,” Nick says of the Tomato Cream.
And for those already wondering about the House Dressing, it’s up next on the list, and Nick hopes soon. After that it’s on to homemade pasta.
Weiland’s in Clintonville, Huffman’s Market in Upper Arlington, and soon, Lucky’s, stock the sauce, with hopefully several more additions in the coming months. Nick is also working on an e-commerce platform but is building up inventory before unleashing the sauce on the internet.
Right now is a time of transition Nick says. The last week of business was a busy one, which the family expected, but lines wrapping around the building waiting for dinner service to begin almost made it feel like a funeral. But as he would go outside and talk to customers waiting for one last taste, “That felt like a celebration more so in the end,” Nick says.
As for the possibilities of another restaurant – it’s not entirely out of the question. Nick envisions perhaps a smaller spot, half retail goods that he’s working on now, half eatery. But for now, he’s committed to keeping the spirit of the restaurant alive in a new way. Expect some appearances at farmers markets and expect the candy bags for the kiddos to be back.
Look for updates at facebook.com/TheFlorentine/.