A Neighborhood Place
TORTORA'S EXPANDS TO SERVE ITS SUBURBAN HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA RESIDENTS
BY DENISE GREER, ASSOCIATE EDITOR
PHOTOS BY RICK DAUGHERTY
A January Pizza Today visit to Tortora’s Pizzeria in Owens Cross Roads, Alabama, came amid a flurry of excitement at the four-year-old business. Owner Joe Moore displays his multitasking mastery, fielding questions about his pizzeria while coordinating with his kitchen and dealing with construction issues for a quarter-of-a-million dollar expansion project. As Moore shared his story, the installation of a refrigeration unit that is expected to cool 16 beers on tap in his main restaurant wasn’t cooling properly and one of the beer taps needed an extra costly part to support a famed Irish beer. He takes these renovation bumps in stride, as he’s seen a few since he had envisioned expanding to include a patio for live music and a separate bar facility more than a year and a half ago. The pizzeria itself added a bar with high back seating to its open dining room with high ceilings, three sides of large picture windows and the pizza line in full view. Projecting the separate bar, Tortoras Bar & Grill, to open in September, Moore secured a $1,200 city liquor license. But, the bar and grill didn’t open until December 14. “So basically I got 17 days for $1,200.” he says, shaking his head. “But that is the way it goes in the restaurant business.”
Moore spared no expense when it came time to build out the bar and grill that accommdates 50. A heavy slate bar and high bar tables line the narrow space. There are six draft beers on tap with plans to expand to 10. Just off the bar is a pass-through window to a small kitchen offering different items than the pizzeria with emphasis on burgers, steaks, fish and appetizers. Moore says the menu is still evolving. The patio, with its capacity of 75, has a retractable canopy with a built-in guttering system, lighting and heaters, allowing for year-round use. With the additions, Tortora’s aims to be the neighborhood destination for the Huntsville bedroom community of roughly 30,000 within a five-mile radius, Moore says. Since the December opening, it’s been a slow start for the bar and grill, but Moore says a marketing push is underway. He expects his sales to bump 40 to 50 percent with the expansion, nearly doubling Tortora’s $900,000 annual sales from 2011. He hopes to recoup his recent facility investment within a couple years.
Tortora’s has already built a strong family following in the Huntsville area. The pizzeria just earned a “Best Pizza” in Huntsville title from a Huntsville Times reader poll in February. Moore says he had a lot of help when Tortora’s opened in 2008. “Joe Carlucci was a big part of that,” he says, adding that he consulted with World Pizza Champions Carlucci and Tony Gemignani and received advice from Big Dave Ostrander. Carlucci stayed on at Tortora’s after the grand opening to act as its general manager for two years. Tortora’s even has a pizza named for Carlucci with gorgonzola, mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, prosciutto, fresh basil, and a reduced balsamic vinaigrette. There’s also one named after Gemignani with mozzarella, gorgonzola, prosciutto, arugula and a reduced balsamic vinaigrette (no tomato sauce). Both pies are offered at $16.95 for a 12-inch. A top-seller is the Tortora’s Supreme (mozzarella, pepperoni, Italian sausage, ham, salami, red onions, mushrooms, black olives and green peppers at $16.95 for a 12-inch). Tortora’s Sydney Pizza is an award winner that features mozzarella, chorizo, sauteed cherry tomatoes, caramelized onions, bacon and fresh basil (also $16.95 for a 12-inch). Tortora’s menu is well-rounded with appetizers, salads, calzones, pastas, entrees, wraps, and pizzoli, in addition to its pizza. Even with more than 60 dishes, the restaurant runs a 26 percent food cost.
Tortora’s location provides both benefits and challenges. It sits perpendicular to a state highway, creating a challenge to see the restaurant from the street. In addition to signage, Moore has a billboard just as commuters come over the hill from Huntsville’s business district directing customers to Tortora’s. Right across the street is an elementary school, making community-based marketing a driving force for Tortora’s. Besides holding school nights, which give 10 percent of its sales back, Tortora’s also throws a pizza party for the home room with the best attendance. Each spring, Moore gives 100 percent of Tortora’s sales on one evening to support the Melissa George Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. “It’s a win-win because we give back and people come out and support us,” he says. As the community gets a feel for Tortora’s new layout of family dining, an adults-only bar and a lively patio, Moore says he keeps his vision in mind. “Ideally, I want to expand to a second location — but we have to get the patio wrapped up and streamline operations,” he says. “That’s what needs my focus.” u
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
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