Nearly a year ago, when Craig Blais of the WBDC introduced Cliff Rucker to Michael Covino, it was to first to help advise on how to grow the Worcester community through Cliff’s hockey vision, the Worcester Railers. Today, the relationship has evolved into a passion for local community and has created a new Niche Hospitality Group brand to live in the heart of the Canal District. While the Ice Center will be kicking off the hockey season in October 2017, Niche Hospitality Group is putting all efforts into a new restaurant concept opening in the late summer. The concept echos the relationship between Rucker and Covino, as well as the ever-growing movement in Worcester: Community.
Niche Hospitality Group—the parent company behind Bocado, The Citizen, Mezcal, The Fix, and Rye & Thyme American Tavern—prides itself on creating unique dining experiences and the latest venture will be nothing short of what we have come to expect. Opening late summer 2017, Nonna’s Pizza & Pasta will be located inside the Ice Center and embrace the Italian family-style dining concept with a menu focusing on pizza and pasta. While pizza and pasta may not be new to the local culinary scene, it will certainly add variety when it comes to family dining. “The goal of the restaurant is to be family-focused and offer a pizza style that the city has yet to see,” says Covino. Worcester’s pizza offerings have expanded recently, with the introduction of Dacosta’s Pizza Bakery and Volturno, but with Nonna’s Pizza & Pasta, Niche Hospitality Group is on the mission to take pizza in a different direction with an emphasis on Long Island style pizza – a pizza that isn’t thin like Neapolitan, but not as thick as a Chicago deep dish or a Brooklyn Sicilian.
The inspiration for this new restaurant is personal, with a tip of the hat to Rucker’s mother-in-law, Erasmina Piccirilli. Piccirilli immigrated from Italy when she was eight months pregnant with Cliff’s now wife, Susan. Her family set roots in Somerville, MA where home cooking took center stage. Although she never mastered the English language, or registered for a driver’s license, her cooking remains—to this day—an indescribable experience. Rucker and Susan have been married for 30 years, but that doesn’t stop his face from lighting up when thinking about Sunday dinner at Piccirilli’s home. “Every one of her dishes are infused with an indescribable level of unparalleled expertise and they fill your belly and warm your soul,” Rucker continued, “Nonna’s will pay homage to my mother-in-law and all other ‘Nonnas’ who have nourished the spirits of their families with a home-cooked Italian feast.”
With 120 seats, Nonna’s Pizza & Pasta will also redefine how we look at Italian cuisine, with two-floors, a full liquor license, including beer and wine on tap and whole lot of growing room. While eating at Nonna’s will be like Sunday dinner at grandma’s house, it will also cater to the fast-casual aspect of Italian cuisine with an “order-at-the-counter and go” feature. Offering pizza by the slice, half tray and full tray, deciding whether to eat-in or dine-out will be the only tough choice.
While the Nonna’s brand hasn’t launched yet, it is already growing…Nonna’s Cafe, also located in the Ice Center will serve coffee, Gelato (now you won’t have to travel to Eataly in Boston) and desserts. Nonna’s Café will be a quick pick-me-up for hockey fans while watching the game.
Keeping their focus on building community, Rucker and Covino are expanding their relationship in other ways also. Niche Hospitality Group was recently hired to create the Railer’s Sports Tavern on 90 Commercial Street, helping to provide a place for hockey fans to pregame and watch away games while enjoying a beer and pub style food.
Covino and Rucker are on a mission, whether it is building Nonna’s Pizza & Pasta, Nonna’s Café, or the Railer’s Sports Tavern they are strengthening Worcester’s community with food and adding to the dynamic fabric of the culinary capital of New England.