Less than three years after Classico Italian Restaurant reopened in Tellico Village, it is receiving a name change and facelift.
After outgrowing its current location in Village Square, restaurant owners Larry and Teresa Wooden, who have lived in the Village for 26 years, decided to open Little Italy of Tellico in the Lakeside Plaza shopping center.
“We outgrew that place the first year and a half basically,” Larry said. “We were looking at this place, but someone else beat us to it. It was Rosy’s. … When she went out of business we approached the landlady, Donna Akey, who has been real good to us. She let us make all kinds of modifications to her building. “
When Classico originally reopened, Larry and Teresa only operated the breakfast side of the restaurant, Mama’s Grits.
After a slow start, business began booming.
“The first year we didn’t know if we were going to to stay in business,” Larry said. “We talked several times about closing. Then we just started getting loyal patrons. With word of mouth pretty soon they liked my grits and the Southern cooking.”
That led to the Woodens buying out their business partner to take over the Classico side as well.
The couple decided to keep some of the staff on board, including lead cook Orlando Vasquez, who has been key to success.
“We bought the business from him and we carried over his cook, his Italian cook, who is probably one of the best fellows that I’ve ever known,” Larry said. “He’s from Honduras … and he can whip up some pizza. He’s been with us from day one and he’s never missed one day of work the whole time we’ve been open. He’s the backbone of the business.”
If not for Vasquez, Larry likely would have converted the restaurant into a diner. Instead, the Italian side has thrived, necessitating the larger facility.
The new location will more than double seating and comes with a much larger kitchen space.
Renovations began in January and have included new flooring, booths, bathroom renovations, kitchen renovations, bringing in a piano and dance floor, having murals painted on the wall and electrical work.
Staff is excited about the new opportunities the location presents, Hannah Collins, assistant manager, said.
“There’s more things that we are able to do and provide more space to our customers,” Collins said.
Mama’s Grits will remain in the current location serving breakfast and lunch daily, while Little Italy of Tellico will serve lunch and dinner.
“We will offer Italian food — pasta and pizza — a steak night and a seafood night,” Teresa said of the new location.
Little Italy had its grand opening Friday after a soft opening in the days leading up. Monday also saw the opening of an ice cream parlor run by Larry and Teresa, which is attached to Little Italy.
The goal is to offer a family atmosphere, which Collins has seen up close.
“A good thing that Larry and Teresa do is they go out and they connect with their customers,” she said. “They’ll go out to the tables and they’ll sit down … with the customers, people they’ve never talked to before. They really develop relationships within the Village.”
Those relationships have allowed the business to experience success.
“We could not have done this without the help of so many of our customers, friends, neighbors that spent countless hours to help us get this place ready,” Larry said. “I mean the man hours. That just shows you what kind of good friends they’ve become. They all started off as just customers and became friends. They have come in here and spent out helping get this place ready to open.”