Paolo Vetrati, owner and executive chef at his family-owned restaurant La Stalla Cucina Rustica, looked around the newly redecorated space at 4855 E. Warner Road in Ahwatukee and liked what he saw.
It has been a long and time-devouring move for the downtown Chandler restaurant, which gave up its space after 15 years despite the following it had developed with recipes gleaned from his parents’ restaurants in New Jersey.
Progress pushed the venerable eatery into Ahwatukee.
The move was prompted by Chandler’s massive Overstreet redevelopment project, a 77,000-square-foot mixed-use entertainment and dining complex.
La Stalla literally was overshadowed by the block-long $25 million development on the southwest corner of Arizona Avenue and Chandler Boulevard that is anchored by Flix Brewhouse, a national concern touting itself as “America’s Cinema Brewery.”
Continuing construction on the project took its toll on La Stalla’s business and Vetrati’s patience as foot traffic and parking were severely taxed.
“We were literally surrounded by construction, and it had been going on for a year and a half,” said Vetrati, who grew up working with his sister and parents in their New Jersey restaurants.
“It was supposed to have been finished four or five months ago, but one year turned into two and it really hurt our business. We even had to have deliveries come through our front door. It was time to leave.”
He said he feels fortunate to have found the new location, which was left vacant when Los Dos Molinos Ahwatukee closed in April after filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The other three Los Dos Molinos in the region were not affected because the Ahwatukee location had a different owner.
“We’re happy to be here, and we hope the people of Ahwatukee like us and like our food,” he said as he looked about the new space, which has retained the Tuscan look of the Chandler eatery. “We’re going to try and keep this site more casual, but of course, maintain the same quality.”
Vetrati has brought along much of his kitchen and serving staff, some of whom have been with him 10 to 12 years.
La Stalla Cucina Rustica will serve the same menu – Italian dishes that Vetrati, who was born in Italy, cooks himself.
Many recipes were derived from those cooked by his grandmother in the fishing village of Mola di Bari. Others are gleaned from his mother and father, Maria Innamorato and Antonio Vetrati, who immigrated to New Jersey in the 1970s.
“I grew up in this business. This has been my family heritage for 50 years,” he said.
When Vetrati was asked to name his favorite entrees or dessert on the La Stalla menu, he laughed and replied, “I do not have a favorite. Whatever I’m in the mood for is what I eat.”
He admitted there are menu items his faithful customers do rave about, including spaghetti alla carbonara and chicken marsala.
And La Stalla’s homemade desserts, like tiramisu and creme brulee, are legendary, and were among the reasons Thrillist.com, a national entertaining-dining guide, ranked La Stalla Cucina Rustica among its “Top 10 Restaurants in Arizona” in 2015.
The new Ahwatukee location, which Vetrati hopes to open this week or next, retains the warmth of the Chandler restaurant and offers an expanded bar space.
“We still have a full bar, and actually even a bigger bar that’s open to both indoors and out so we can accommodate the patio dining,” explained Vetrati.
For anyone who’s moved a household, the task of moving an entire and established restaurant can only be imagined.
“I still don’t know how we did it,” he laughed. “It takes God and a lot of work. We’re still putting it together, but it looks good. It looks good.”
He said that regardless of the pain leaving downtown Chandler after a decade and a half, he retains good memories and good customers who have told them they will make the drive across I-10 to continue to support his restaurant.
Two of those faithful customers are Howard and Sue Shapiro of Sun Lakes, who are ready to gas up the family car and drive to Ahwatukee as soon as La Stalla Cucina Rustica opens.
“We both migrated from New Jersey and enjoy reminiscing with Paolo about our common remembrances. His menu and quality is as close to the genuine Italian cuisine as you’re going to find here in Arizona,” said Howard Shapiro who said his favorite menu item is the chicken marsala while his wife favors the cavatelli salsice e broccoli, with chicken replacing the sausage
“Sue and I will happily make the trip to his new location as soon as it’s ready,” he said enthusiastically.
Leaving Chandler, though necessary to remain in business, remains bittersweet to Vetrati.
“I do have a lot of great memories of our time in Chandler, and a lot of great customers. I was there for 15 years, and I still live in Chandler. It’s been a long road, but I like Ahwatukee and I think we will add to the community. We will become part of the community.”
Hours for La Stalla Cucina Rustica remain similar though the restaurant will be closed Mondays rather than Tuesdays.
The website, which contains lunch, dinner, dessert menus and prices, remains LaStallaCR.com.