PORTLAND, Maine — Taking a trip isn't in the cards right now, but our taste buds can make us feel like we've traveled thousands of miles. A slice of pizza from Pizzarino may, for a moment, make you feel like you're in Italy. If you ask the owner, there's no reason to stop with pizza when "he knows a guy" who can serve you some good sauce, too.
NEWS CENTER Maine Small Business Week continues with the stories behind two Italian restaurants you'll find on Fore Street in the Old Port.
Authentic Italian cuisine in a city known for seafood at Pizzarino and Paciarino.
Pizzarino opened in 2018 and has been serving wood-fired pizza since. Paciarino was here first, making homemade pasta and sauce for the last twelve years.
"I want to give the Italian experience," said Mauro Stoppani, the owner of Pizzarino. "My family is back home in Italy, my friends are back home in Italy."
Stoppani had worked his entire adult life for his family's business, and he wanted a business of his own. So he moved from Milan, Italy to Portland, Maine, and opened his own pizza shop.
But why this state, why this city, why this exact spot? The answer is 110 steps down the road.
His best friend from childhood had already set up shop here, too.
"For me, it was literally to have a part of me here," said Enrico Barbiero, the owner of Paciarino. "[He's] like a brother [to] me."
There's no sibling-like rivalry here, though. Pizzarino sticks to pizza and Paciarino is all about fresh pasta and sauces.
"We share the customers," said Barbiero.
Both shops have remained open during the pandemic, offering curbside pick up and delivery for some orders. However, they haven't been able to avoid the economic blow that so many others are facing.
For example, Barbiero said sales on Mother's Day Weekend last year were eight times higher.
Alcohol usually accounts for a quarter of his sales.
"You can sell a bottle of wine now, that's good, but honestly I sold probably four or five bottles of wine in all of the period of the coronavirus so it's basically zero," said Barbiero.
But even in this challenging time, he's reminded why he fell in love with Maine in the first place, and why he set up shop here twelve years ago.
"Mainers, my customers are super nice. It happens a lot of times where people arrive and buy something that is $20 and leave me $100," said Barbiero.
Generosity from loyal customers combined with the comfort of a good friend: their recipe for hope.
Hope for two friends who left their homes so we can experience a little bit of Italy, without having to leave ours.
"The thing that I really cannot accept is that I cannot go back [home]," said Stoppani who feels homesick now that he cannot afford to quarantine away from work long enough to travel home to Italy, even just for a few days to see family and friends.
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