OCEAN CITY – Adding a Touch of Italy to Ocean City was an opportunity that could not be refused for both the Harrison Group and restaurant ownership.
Touch of Italy opened its first location on Baltimore Ave. in Rehoboth in October of 2009, serving fresh handmade mozzarella cheese, pasta, pizza, cookies and crispy bread as well as making available high quality imported items from Italy to the area.
“It is not just Touch of Italy. It is the salimeria [delicatessen], the pasticceria [pastry] and the ristorante [restaurant],” Touch of Italy co-owner Bobby Cipretti said.
Touch of Italy’s second location in Lewes that opened in 2010 created a higher demand that called for the opening of its own bakery in Lewes a couple years later.
“We realized bread and baked goods were an issue, so we had to move the bakery and bring in ovens from Italy and expertise from Arthur Avenue in The Bronx [Little Italy],” Cipretti said.
Touch of Italy’s fourth location recently opened on Route 1 in Rehoboth, which currently serves as the company’s largest location.
The idea to bring Touch of Italy to Ocean City originated when Cipretti played golf last November with Holiday Inn Oceanfront General Manager Jason Gulshen. A few weeks later, the two sat down and made the idea become reality.
Reflections, owned by the Harrison Group, stood as the restaurant in the Holiday Inn on 66th Street for 33 years.
“We all have very fond memories of Reflections but being fine dining it became an occasion restaurant, and we needed something that is more lively and appropriate for families,” Gulshen said. “We were looking to enhance the guest experience.”
According to Cipretti, Touch of Italy was not seeking to open another location as the Route 1 location in Rehoboth had recently opened, but the opportunity could not be passed up.
“The location for us is perfect,” Cipretti said. “It is not too far south to be difficult to deliver our baked goods and everyday items. It is a sweet spot mid-way
through Ocean City, and it is great real estate. Our backyard is beautiful, it is the Atlantic Ocean, and you can’t beat that. We are going to be replacing one of the best fine dining restaurants in Ocean City.”
Touch of Italy is known for its authentic Italian baking and cooking down to the source of where the ingredients come from.
“It is all about logistics … we source our product. Our core product that we serve our customer comes directly from Italy or we always source through a very finite group of purveyors in New York, specifically Arthur Ave. in the Bronx,” Cipretti said.
For example, the restaurant’s meats are from the Biancardi family and the ravioli is made by the Borgatti family, both of which have been in business in Little Italy in New York City for the better part of 90 years.
“We buy the best of the best or we make the best of the best but it’s all logistics because the traditional food service vendors do not carry the product that we need, so we don’t take the easy way out. We go get it, and that’s the secret … drive eight hours a day, which we did every other day for a year to make the Baltimore Ave. and Lewes store successful,” Cipretti said, adding Touch of Italy has become such a large operation that products from Little Italy are now being delivered.
A few popular menu items Cipretti pointed out is the antipasti that is made with the finest Italian meats and cheeses as well as fresh mozzarella made daily at Touch of Italy’s bakery.
“All of the pasta we serve is made in Italy. There is no boxed pasta here. All of our tomato sauces are made with imported Italian tomatoes. There is never a deviation,” he said. “Our pizzas are all made in a wood oven, oven fired at 800 degrees and the process to make the dough is painstakingly difficult. The flour that we buy is very hard to source, and that is significant.”
Touch of Italy’s Focaccia Robiola Deluxe pizza was created by Ciro Verdi, an internationally famous Italian cook featured on the Food Network and owner of the historic Da Ciro Ristorante in NYC. The pizza is a crispy thin focaccia filled with robiola cheese, oven dried tomatoes, arugula and prosciutto drizzled with white truffle oil.
Verdi will be on the scene when Touch of Italy in Ocean City opens as he is taking on a partnership in the location and will personally cook in the kitchen for the first six months.
Construction on Touch of Italy at the Holiday Inn started early last week and is expected to be completed by mid-May. The restaurant will become the company’s largest location seating 220 guests.
The restaurant will have a storefront entrance added to the front of the Holiday Inn to allow an entrance from the parking lot or guests will be able to enter the restaurant from the hotel lobby where preparations and cooking will be visible.
The new location will include a salimeria, a pizza station equipped with a 32-foot wood pizza oven, seating and an extended bar as well as a wine cellar room.
“We are going to build a wine room here for private parties that will have an exclusive Italian wine list of over 50 varieties, and can be available for private events that can be booked through the hotel concierge,” Cipretti said.
Touch of Italy will also be providing all catering to the Holiday Inn and its convention center as well as hold cooking classes for both hotel guests and the public to attend during the off-season.
“We will have wine pairings, cooking classes, all kinds of stuff going on,” Cipretti said. “We are focused on family. Our traditional Sunday night Italian dinner is important to us, and it is important kids and families can come to Touch of Italy more than once a week or on a special occasion. We should be a staple, and our price points will enable that.”