Italian restaurant opening in Newburyport's Market Square in early 2020

DAVE ROGERS/Staff photoNew awnings are up at what will become Vera Ristorante, an Italian restaurant at the former site of West Row in Newburyport’s Market Square.

NEWBURYPORT – A little slice of Naples will be coming to Market Square early next year with the expected opening of Vera Ristorante where West Row Cafe and Bar used to be located. 

Vera Ristorante owner John Santaniello said his roughly 112-seat indoor and outdoor Italian restaurant should be up and running in late January or early February. 

“We’re going to have dishes people have never seen before,” Santaniello said. “We’re going to surprise a lot of people.” 

Santaniello and his partner, David Callan, purchased the former West Row site from David Pierre for a price the new owner declined to disclose. Along with buying the space, Santaniello said he was able to transfer West Row’s liquor license without a hassle.

“It’s an expensive space but it’s worth it because it’s one of the best spaces in Newburyport,” Santaniello said. “We’re there for the long run.”

In late February, Pierre listed the 1,800-square-foot property — 35 Market St., Unit 1 — for $1.3 million; it last sold for $832,050 in 2011. Pierre opened West Row to much fanfare back in November 2017 after operating an Orange Leaf frozen yogurt franchise there for years. 

Emails from The Daily News to Pierre for comment were not returned Tuesday. 

Vera Ristorante marks the fifth restaurant the longtime New Yorker has owned since getting into what has been a family tradition for 100 years. He recently moved to Amesbury and said he is excited to be opening his first restaurant in Massachusetts. 

While the overall appearance of Vera Ristorante will be similar to West Row, which closed in March, people will see a different bar and interior. Perhaps the biggest change inside is the addition of a brick oven from Italy – one that Santaniello said fires up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit and can bake a Neapolitan-style pizza in 60 to 90 seconds. 

“It will look totally, totally different,” Santaniello said. 

Much of the interior work has been completed and the street-level space sports new awnings outside. There are some interior mechanical issues to be completed, work that needs to be approved by the city’s Health Department.

Health Director Frank Giacalone said his department has yet to complete a review that ensures the new restaurant’s food preparation stations and storage facilities meet city guidelines. 

Giacalone expects that work to be done in early 2020. 

“This is pretty straightforward,” he said, adding that he received Santaniello’s application in September.

Santaniello is taking a somewhat calculated risk entering a pizza/Italian cuisine scene already represented by at least one other sit-down restaurant (Oregano’s Pizzeria & Ristorante) and two pizza shops (Anchor Stone Deck Pizza and Stone Crust Pizza), all within a minute’s walk of each other. 

But Santaniello said he believes there are many differences that will allow Vera Ristorante to stand out and flourish. One difference he pointed to was a new bar and communal lounge seating that  he hopes inspires people to stay well past finishing their meals. 

Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce & Industry Vice President Mark Iannuccillo said despite the competition, Vera Ristorante should do well in Market Square, with his theory being that more places to eat mean more people coming downtown. 

“We’re very excited, obviously, to have that downtown spot filled,” he said. 

Staff writer Dave Rogers can be reached at drogers@newburyportnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008.

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