Cornells in Schenectady’s Little Italy, shut in 2020, to reopen Friday under new ownership

Cornells in Little Italy is shown at 39 N. Jay St. in Schenectady on July 12, 2021.

Cornells in Little Italy is shown at 39 N. Jay St. in Schenectady on July 12, 2021.

SCHENECTADY — Cornells in Little Italy will reopen for dinner Friday, under new ownership but with the same theme and with some of the same favorite menu options.

The same faces will be there as well — new owner Maria Perreca Papa put back together the staff who went their separate ways when the restaurant shut down at the start of the pandemic nearly two years ago.

“The only new people are myself and Anthony [Vagnini],” she said. “Everyone else came back.”

Vagnini is a specialist in meat, a protein chef or chef de boucher by title.

The executive chef is Ryan Nicklaw, who was a co-executive chef when the restaurant closed in 2020.

The restaurant name is well-known in the history of Schenectady cuisine. The original Cornell’s opened on Van Vranken Avenue in 1943 and relocated to North Jay Street in the Little Italy neighborhood in 2003. The Aragosa family sold Cornell’s in 2011; the new owners in 2016 rebranded it Cornells in Little Italy. They announced its permanent closure in April 2020.

The Aragosa and Perreca families have been friends and neighbors for generations; Papa is co-owner of the landmark Perreca’s bakery next door to Cornells in Little Italy and the MORE Perreca’s restaurant, next door to the bakery.

She made minor updates to the Cornell’s model after buying the restaurant in late 2021.

“The plan is to satisfy the former clientele and offer them all of their old favorites that they’ve come to associate with Cornells for almost 80 years,” she said.

At the same time, she’s added things like an Instagram wall in the entranceway and a larger cocktail menu to attract new fans.

Vagnini’s role also is new.

“One of my big things is, I wanted to elevate the protein offerings at Cornells,” Papa said.

Hours are limited to start: 4 to 9 p.m. on Thursday; 4 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 3 to 8 p.m. Sunday. Expanded hours are planned in the future.

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