By Elizabeth Hall’s reckoning, there are 136 Italian restaurants in Charleston. Hall admits she’s counting every restaurant with even a tenuous connection to tomato sauce, but her tally speaks to the local enthusiasm for Italian-style cooking.
“We don’t have a Little Italy, but what we do have that I get really jazzed about, is we do have new immigration,” Hall says. “There is an Italian base here: We just don’t recognize it and galvanize it.”
Hall and Paolo Dalla Zorza of Paolo’s Gelato Italiano, Hall’s personal and professional partner, hope to do exactly that with a private supper club in the area of West Ashley that community planners are now calling DuWapp. While Hall stresses that their idea is at least a year away from fruition, the couple hopes to transform a former residence into a culinary salon.
At Ciao Charleston, visiting chefs from Italy or New York City would offer monthly dinners for club members, Hall says. She also envisions the venue hosting wine tastings; Sunday markets; cooking classes and private events.
“The gelateria has been a great meet-up point,” Hall says. “So we’re just kind of broadening in a very different way. We don’t want to have a restaurant: The competition is so incredible in this town. We’re trying to do something for people who own and work in restaurants.”
While details are still sketchy at this point, Hall forecasts the club will initially enroll about 50 people; she hasn’t yet determined a pricing structure.
Paolo’s Gelato Italiano operates locations in both Charleston and Atlanta. Hall says she can imagine introducing the Ciao concept to other cities.
“We think this concept could travel,” Hall says. “There could definitely be a Ciao Atlanta or Ciao Nashville.”
For now though, the focus is DuWapp, which Hall says they’ve been supporting since before it acquired its new nickname. The house that Hall and Zorza purchased for the project is located at 617 Blitchridge Avenue, and has a history of contributing to the area’s economic development: It was built in the 1940s by John Blitch of Blitch Plumbing. Blitch held early meetings of the St. Andrews Civic Association there.
And he served food too: “Chicken salad sandwiches and iced tea,” says Hall, who calls the parallel “the icing on the cake.”