“My wife made me promise I would never get into the restaurant business,” Bill Mignucci Jr. of the South Philadelphia-rooted Italian grocer Di Bruno Bros. was saying the other day.
Mignucci had been telling her of a project that he and his cousins/partners, Emilio and Billy, were working on — transforming the second floor of the Rittenhouse store by adding a mozzarella/wine/coffee bar, pizza bar, comfortable seating in a lounge area and dining room, and an all-day menu served by waiters.
Karen shot him a look.
Bill denied that it would be a restaurant. “I’m allowed to call it a cafe and bar,” he said.
Alimentari, as the space is known, soft-opened last week.
However you define it, Alimentari — Italian for “nourish” — could be viewed as Di Bruno Bros.' home-grown answer to Eataly, the syndicated, one-stop Italian food emporium. It’s an extension of the mini-supermarket at 18th and Chestnut Streets, with a vast collection of cheeses, cured meats, oils, and groceries.
Up the flight of stairs, in what had been a lightly trafficked cafe and event space, the design firm Cohere set up a Euro-looking, subway-tiled eatery with counters bearing sandwiches, Roman-style pizza sold by the slice, and other prepared foods; a marble bar with an espresso machine, a selection of wines, refrigerator cases for meats, and the fixins for mozzarella salads; and waiter service. Most of the menu can be prepared from products sold downstairs at retail; there’s a dedicated kitchen with a full crew. (Lunch menu is here, and dinner is here.)
“The idea is for people to spend two hours [on the premises] and not 20 minutes," Mignucci said, adding that the company is taking a risk with this approach. “We have plenty of experience with food service, but this is a different world,” he said, describing the move as an “evolution” of the company as it marks its 80th anniversary.
Di Bruno’s has been on a hiring spree of late. Among the newcomers are general manager Nancy Benussi (a 10-year veteran of Vetri), managing director of culinary Ashley James (a veteran of Starr Catering and the Four Seasons), and Alimentari chef Charles Vogt (most recently at Main & Vine and Barcelona).
Among the projects due this fall are a catering venue at the former Bank nightclub at Sixth and Spring Garden Streets and a bottle shop next door to the original Di Bruno’s location, on Ninth Street between Christian and Carpenter.
For now, Alimentari is open from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday, and till 7 p.m. Sunday. Brunch and later hours will be added this fall.