Italian restaurant industry grows in The Woodlands in 2019-20

Gamberi Fra Diavolo featured at Avanti Italian Kitchen and Wine Bar. (Courtesy Avanti Italian Kitchen and Wine Bar)
Gamberi Fra Diavolo featured at Avanti Italian Kitchen and Wine Bar. (Courtesy Avanti Italian Kitchen and Wine Bar)

Gamberi Fra Diavolo featured at Avanti Italian Kitchen and Wine Bar. (Courtesy Avanti Italian Kitchen and Wine Bar)

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Spaghetti and meatballs are a specialty at Radunare. (Courtesy Radunare)
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Bread-based appetizer gorgonzola bruschetta is served at Sorriso. (Courtesy Sorriso)
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Vegetarian pizza is one of the menu options available at Zanti Cucina. (Courtesy Zanti Cucina)
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Throughout 2019 and early 2020, The Woodlands saw a rise in Italian dining coming to the area, with both casual and fine dining among the new businesses opening.

In 2019, The Woodlands welcomed three new Italian establishments: Radunare on Research Forest Drive in The Woodlands, Zanti Cucina Italiana on Research Forest Drive in Magnolia and Sorriso Modern Italian Kitchen on Waterway Square Place. January saw the emergence of Avanti Italian Kitchen and Wine Bar in Creekside Park. Owners of the new restaurants said they are attempting to bring competition to area staples such as Amerigos Grill, and each owner noted the immediate areas where they opened their restaurants were limited in their Italian offerings.

Around a year of research went into bringing Sorriso Mordern Italian Kitchen, which opened Jan. 9, to the area, according to Wendi Gelfound, Howard Hughes Corp. regional director of marketing. Gelfound said there was a desire to bring a unique independent restaurant to the area.

“It was important to us to rebrand the restaurants that were in the Westin to be more community focused,” Gelfound said.

Santiago Palaez, CEO and founder of Zanti Cucina Italiana, said it took about two years of research before bringing the restaurant to the area June 24. Palaez said while there are other Italian restaurants around The Woodlands, he wanted to focus on making the food as authentic as possible.

“The Woodlands was a natural choice because it was underserved for authentic Italian food in the Magnolia [area] and back part of The Woodlands,” Palaez said. “This community appreciates and is sophisticated about food, and we live here.”Newcomer Frank Morello, who opened Radunare on July 18, said he knew he wanted to serve the area after visiting The Woodlands to check out the space with a Realtor. While other restaurants in the area tend to focus more on high-end food, Morello said his goal is to focus more on casual dining.

“I wanted to put [in] a family place and get the feel of good food with a good portion that grandma put on your plate,” Morello said.

For area veteran Tina Kosh, Amerigos Grill’s owner, which opened in The Woodlands in 1994, the new competition is beneficial.

“We believe new competition is good and is what builds the economy in The Woodlands and helps the restaurant industry thrive,” Kosh said. “We like to focus on serving quality food and service to the community to the best of our ability as well as continuing to make our restaurant as competitive as possible.”Avanti Italian Kitchen owner Enrique Orioli said he came into The Woodlands in 2011 after receiving community feedback on the area at his original restaurant, Via Emilia on FM 1960 in Houston.

Orioli seconded Kosh’s sentiment, saying the industry is competitive by nature and that rather than being a drawback, it is beneficial because it pushes restaurant owners to innovate, grow and improve in order to thrive.

Gelfound added a small benefit for each of the restaurants is in a different location around The Woodlands, which prevents overcrowding.
By Andrew Christman
Andrew joined Community Impact Newspaper in early 2019 after moving from Indiana. He is a 2015 graduate from Indiana State University, where he received degrees in English and journalism. He has written for a number of small town publications throughout his career as a reporter.