Friday, April 18, 2014
A popular baker in Portland who lost his job four months ago will rise again next spring when he opens his dream restaurant, serving Sicilian street food including his thick slab pizza, which has gained a cult following among foodies.
Stephen Lanzalotta poses Monday in front of the former Portland Public Market, where he and four business partners will open a 75-seat restaurant next spring.
Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer
Portrait of Stephen Lanzalotta, the popular baker who was fired from Micucci’s, in front of old Portland Public Market building where he is opening his own restaurant/bar called Slab with help of financier and business partner, Jason Loring, right, and three other partners.
Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer
Stephen Lanzalotta, who was fired in June from his position as bakery manager at the Micucci Grocery on India Street, is teaming up with Jason Loring, chef-owner of the Nosh Kitchen Bar on Congress Street, and three other business partners to open a 75-seat restaurant called Slab, in the former Portland Public Market space downtown.
Slab will operate in the spot once occupied by Scales, a seafood restaurant that anchored the public market. The space has 30-foot-high beam ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows. If approved by the city, the layout will include an outdoor beer garden with 20 taps and 160 seats.
Loring, who has suspended plans for a new butcher shop in Portland while he works on the project with Lanzalotta, said he hopes to open Slab in March or April.
Lanzalotta, 55, got about 30 business offers after he left Micucci Grocery in a scuffle that included a debate over whether the Italian grocery had the legal right to his recipes. Micucci continued to sell Lanzalotta’s food after he left, including the square “Sicilian slabs,” topped with slightly sweet tomato and two cheeses, and the ethereal, crescent moon-shaped “Luna bread,” made from the same dough.
Lanzalotta considered, but never took, legal action against Micucci. Instead, he began sifting through the offers in his email box, including jobs as guest chef, consultant, restaurant partner and even wholesale manufacturing director.
Lanzalotta met several times with Loring and the other partners in Slab – Matt Moran and Tobey Moulton, who are also partners in Nosh, and Emily Kingsbury, who will run the bar at Slab.
He decided to join with them because they were “basically saying, ‘Swing for the fence,’ you know what I mean?” Lanzalotta said Monday in an interview at the space, which the baker noted is semicircular like his Luna loaves. “They’re really backing me.”
“This presented the best opportunity,” he said. “It’s closest to my heart, and they gave me the soundest package. It really felt like it was going to work over the long term. I didn’t want to just have another two years of where I was an add-on, or it was capturing a piece of my dream. With this, this has the potential to capture everything. We’re starting off here as a restaurant, but the sky’s the limit as far we’re going to take it.”
Loring, 37, said although he is younger than Lanzalotta, he identifies with him because the baker is a passionate person with a creative drive who just needed an opportunity to show what he can do.
“He’s got stuff that he’s been making for years that he just stands by and perfects,” Loring said. “So I just said, ‘Show me a menu.’ He showed it to me, and I wouldn’t change a thing. The only thing we did was pare it down.”
Slab will serve six to eight appetizers, four or five sandwiches, six desserts and five kinds of pizza. The over-the-counter “Sicilian slab” will now be a “hand slab,” to differentiate it from orders for that other kind of slab – a sheet pan pizza that serves eight, or a half-slab that serves four.
Lanzalotta also plans to make two types of pizza that he called “wedges” when he served them for a short time at Micucci Grocery.
“They’re the same dough, but radically different toppings,” Lanzalotta said. “They’re both very spicy. One caters to vegetarians. It’s cannelini beans with Italian pickled vegetables, and the other is pepperoni and pepperoncini mixed with a spicy pepper paste that actually gives it the flavor of buffalo wings.”
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