After nearly two years, Little Italy Pizzeria at 450 South Main, in the heart of the Blue Mile, has closed and the building is listed for sale or lease.
Owner Frank Cortese acquired the overflow and staff parking lot used by R.J.’s Grill from then owner Randy Nessmith in 2015.
Cortese built the 3,000-square-foot restaurant with 70 seats inside and another 20 seats on a huge deck facing the Blue Mile. They opened in January 2017 and specialized in great, authentic Italian and New York Style pizza and the menu also included other Italian favorites.The legendary Athens restaurant became very popular in Statesboro especially, their beer and pizza specials.
“Statesboro has been amazing for us and it is a hard decision to pull out of the market,” Cortese said. “Our expansion model included bringing in an experienced managing partner who would eventually own the restaurant outright. Daniel Bathurst, who has worked in operations with Little Italy for the past 18 years, relocated to Statesboro and served as the managing partner. Under his leadership, the business grew steadily. However, when he decided to come back to Little Italy in Athens to be closer to his family, we never were able to find a replacement.”
After working for almost a year to find the right fit and concerned about ensuring the best quality customer experience, Cortese felt that rather than compromise his brand, it would be best to shutter the business here.
“At one point, we operated eight Little Italy restaurants,” Cortese said. “Six of those we have successfully opened, operated and eventually sold to the managing partner. With Statesboro now closed, we only own the flagship Little Italy in Athens.”
Cortese has listed the business with Todd Manack of Manack Signature Properties in Statesboro. They have been searching for the right fit for the space and hope to have it opened back soon as an operating business on South Main.
The Little Italy Pizzeria chain was started by Cortese’s father Joe and a partner in 1981 in Florida and then a second location on Marietta Street in downtown Atlanta.
Cortese’s parents immigrated to America from Italy when they were kids. They came to Florida, then Atlanta and now Athens by way of New York. In 1991, Joe Cortese opened his third Little Italy restaurant in Athens and it became a huge success with UGA students and game day fans. The Florida location has closed and they no longer own the Atlanta location, which is still in operation. Joe is now retired but son’s Benny and Frank are actively involved in the business.
“We want to thank everyone in Statesboro who supported Little Italy,” Cortese said. “It is a great community with exciting opportunities. We will miss seeing each of you and hope you will visit us whenever you are in Athens.”