SCHENECTADY — The owners of More Perreca’s Italian Kitchen are preparing to purchase Cornell’s In Little Italy, two doors down North Jay Street.
Maria Perreca Papa said Monday that she and a silent partner are under contract to buy the shuttered Italian restaurant at 39 N. Jay St. If the deal goes through, as expected, they’ll make some functional repairs and look at opening it in early autumn.
Whether the buyers retain the name and menu is one of the discussions underway.
Papa and the same silent partner own More Perreca’s. She and her brother co-own Perreca’s, the 107-year-old landmark bread bakery situated between More Perreca’s and Cornell’s in Little Italy.
Cornell’s has a long history in the city, opening on Van Vranken Avenue in 1943, relocating to the Little Italy neighborhood in 2003, and rebranding as Cornell’s In Little Italy in 2016.
Renovations accompanied the rebranding, and the restaurant is aesthetically pristine, Papa said.
“We walked in and we were pleasantly surprised,” Papa said. “The building for all intents and purposes is ready to go.”
She plans to make some necessary functional upgrades to the grease trap and drains, though. And former owner JoAnn Aragosa had a suggestion: Add some windows to bring more natural light into the rear dining rooms.
“I think that’s great advice and I think that’s something we’ll do before we open,” Papa said.
Papa said she’s excited to continue a connection that’s existed for many decades.
“For three generations our families have been together,” she said.
Among many other connections, the building that now houses More Perreca’s once was a pastry shop owned by Aragosa’s great uncles and her first bike was first owned by Lillia Perreca Papa, Maria’s late mother.
“I grew up on that street and I knew all the businesses there,” Aragosa said. “I remember on Sunday morning, that street was full of people after church buying bread, buying pastry, buying spumoni. It was a great street and it was vibrant and I am really happy to see Maria continue that.”
(About the name Cornell: Yes, the Cornells were Italian. Aragosa said both sets of her grandparents were from Alvignano in the Campania region of Italy. Her theory is that some vowels were dropped from her paternal grandfather’s name when he immigrated and was processed through Ellis Island.)
A partnership of George Ryon, Connie Hume and former Daily Gazette Publisher Jack Hume bought Cornell’s in 2011. They closed down when the pandemic worsened in March 2020 and announced they would not be reopening, due to the difficulty of pivoting to delivery and takeout-only sales.
(More Perreca’s reported success in takeout-only mode during the worst of the pandemic; the bakery never closed.)
“We could not be more delighted,” Connie Hume said Monday. She explained that the partners had seen interest from potential buyers who would have changed the restaurant into something altogether different and not Italian.
“I’m so happy [that in] Little Italy, the major businesses remain. To keep that little nook intact I think it’s very good for the community,” she said. “We look forward to going back and having dinner at the bar, which we did many times.”
When that will be possible isn’t clear. The sale must first close, then Papa has to make the renovations she wants, then she has to find employees to run the place.
“It’s always been difficult finding good staff,” Papa said, adding that it’s worse now.
“I can’t tell you how many employees I’ve called back to work who’ve said, ‘No, I’m going to stay on unemployment,’ so that’s a real thing. But it’s always been challenging.”
It’s critical to have the right people and train them correctly, she said — they’re the public face of a business and a huge factor in the impression that business makes.
Papa said she’s reduced hours at More Perreca’s and added contiguous days off to reduce strain on her employees. She sees many of these sorts of shifts as the restaurant industry tries at once to attract and not burn out their employees.
“So all of that is a very good thing to come out of this [labor] shortage,” Papa said. “Restaurant workers work so, so hard.”