Downtown Italian eatery closes

Published 10:54 pm Saturday, February 18, 2012

After five years, an award-winning restaurant in downtown has closed its doors.

Primo 116 Bistro Italiano served its last Italian dish Saturday night. But that doesn’t mean that owners Steve and Margaret Gellas are going anywhere.

“It was a decision that we made some time back to try to sell the business and lease the space, and we’ve succeeded in doing that,” she said. “It just was the right decision at the right time.”

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She would not reveal who is leasing the space. She also would not disclose what opportunity she and her husband are moving to, but said they are not moving from their home in Suffolk.

“We’re just looking forward, not backwards,” Gellas said.

The restaurant opened the week after Christmas in 2006, serving authentic Italian dishes that were handed down through three generations of her family.

The restaurant had been awarded “The Dish of Hampton Roads” in the January 2011 Hampton Roads Magazine as well as many other honors.

Gellas said the couple still owns the building, as well as one around the corner that currently holds The Plaid Turnip, a casual-dining restaurant. They still are interested in seeing downtown succeed, she said.

“We have a really strong attachment to the space, as well as to the business itself,” she said. “It’s kind of bittersweet.”

Former mayor and downtown advocate Andy Damiani said he is sad the restaurant is closing.

“I’m very depressed about it,” he said. “It’s disappointing.”

Damiani said it seems like downtown can’t catch a break.

“We take one step forward, then we take two steps backwards,” he said. “We can’t seem to get the momentum. If everybody stayed in place the last five years, we would be running out of space. It’s just been back and forth and back and forth and back and forth.”

“I’m sorry to hear Steve leave,” he added.