By Lisa Abraham
When the doors open next month at the restaurant dba — Dante Boccuzzi Akron, one of the first things guests may notice are the bread baskets: They’re long-playing records melted into the shape of bowls.
The 33 rpms-turned-bread-baskets are a standard at Boccuzzi’s restaurants, but for his Akron outpost, not just any albums would do. A close look at the record labels shows that most of them are by the Pretenders. It’s a small tribute to Akron native Chrissie Hynde, lead singer of the group, whose closed restaurant, VegiTerranean, occupied the space that Boccuzzi is converting to dba.
“They’re mostly the Pretenders with a couple of Joe Walsh in there,” Boccuzzi said, explaining how he searched eBay and Amazon for the albums. (Walsh attended Kent State University.)
Aside from the nod to Hynde, the album-bread baskets combine Boccuzzi’s two passions — food and guitar playing. He infuses music into the decor of all of his eateries with his signature guitar-pick icon, and dba is no exception.
Construction on the space at 21 Furnace St., the ground floor of the Northside Lofts at the edge of downtown Akron, is expected to wrap up in about two weeks. Opening to the public is tentatively set for July 2.
On Friday, Boccuzzi and business partners Joel Testa and Morgan Yagi were on site showing the progress of his much-anticipated eatery. Testa Companies owns the Northside Lofts. Testa said renovation costs are about $420,000 between equipment and construction.
Boccuzzi said he wanted to “warm up” the space, which had been characterized by very spare decor with lots of concrete and white. Inside, there’s now lots of red and black, with a definite rock-and-roll vibe.
The restrooms were relocated to allow the kitchen to be expanded, though it’s still a fairly tight space compared to many restaurant kitchens. A prep kitchen was added in the basement, and walls were relocated to allow staff to have direct access to the elevator to the prep kitchen.
New is a glass-walled wine room, and a room for private dining that can be divided into two or three smaller spaces. The bar will contain a large steel ice trough where stemless martini glasses can rest, along with chilled food offerings.
The restaurant will seat 90, and the patio can accommodate up to 98 more in good weather.
Executive chef Torsten Schulz, a German native and longtime friend of Boccuzzi’s, already is ensconced in Akron, residing across from dba and working for the moment at Dante in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood, while the two craft the dba menu.
“It’s very seasonal,” said Schulz, who served as Boccuzzi’s sous chef when they worked together at Nobu in Milan.
Customers who have dined at the Tremont restaurant will recognize the menu. Many of the dishes will be the same, but perhaps with a new twist or different spin. Many items can be ordered in three sizes: taste, appetizer and entree, to encourage trying a wide variety of dishes.
“It will be fun dining instead of fine dining, but it will be fine food, presented in a creative way that’s always changing,” Boccuzzi said.
The menu holds a few vegetarian entrees, also in deference to VegiTerranean’s clientele. The wine menu will offer 50 bottles priced under $50, as well as a large by-the-glass selection.
Boccuzzi said he expects to be at dba full-time for the first month or so, and after that one or two days per week. Opening hours will be dinner service Monday through Saturday and later hours for the bar. Eventually, dba may open for lunch.
In addition to Dante, Boccuzzi also operates Ginko, which serves contemporary Japanese cuisine and sushi downstairs from Dante, and is a partner in the D.C. Pasta Co. in Strongsville.
A Parma native, Boccuzzi returned to Ohio in 2007 with a resume that included Charlie Palmer’s Aureole in New York, and designer Giorgio Armani and chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s Armani/Nobu in Milan.
Boccuzzi said he wanted to move back home to Ohio because life is easier and less stressful here than in New York, and he preferred it for raising his four children, ages 15, 13, 7 and 3. Boccuzzi said he would not have been able to accomplish all that he has as a chef and restaurant owner in New York, which can be an aggravating environment for doing business.
“After a while it gets to you,” he said.