Those who hail from Italy or served a mission there are aware the Republic Day of Italy is right around the corner. June 2 celebrates the day Italy voted to end the monarchy and become a republic.
Students and families can celebrate Italian culture and food on Republic Day in Provo at Gloria’s Little Italy on the corner of Center Street and University Avenue.
BYU alumna Rachel Christensen and her husband bought the restaurant in 2012 from Gloria, who started the restaurant after moving to the United States from Italy. Christensen said Gloria taught her the original recipes, and Christensen has since added several dishes and desserts to the menu.
“I like being able to create new dishes,” Christensen said. “Learning to make gelato was a lot of fun — we make it in-house.”
The most popular dishes on the menu are the chicken parmesan, the gnocchi rosata and the bandiera Italiano.
Christensen said she grew up cooking and has always enjoyed it.
“When I was little, my grandma taught me to make bread and sweet rolls,” Christensen said. “Through junior high, I enrolled in a recipe club and would spend the weekends cooking. My favorites are always desserts.”
Despite Christensen’s passion for the business, running a restaurant does not come without its challenges. Christensen said a few of those difficulties include revolving staff and fluctuation in customer demand.
“Most of my employees are students, so each semester I have a high turnover,” Christensen said. “Also, restaurants are not consistent with the amount of people who come in. It’s difficult to know when it will be busy and what to prepare for.”
Despite these obstacles, Gloria’s Little Italy has enjoyed an increase of 20 to 30 percent in sales due to the temple open house across the street, according to Christensen.
“We host wedding lunches and dinners, so we have seen an increase in that, as well, with the temple,” Christensen said.
The restaurant recently launched its express lunch which features $7 meals brought out in 10 minutes or less.
“It’s great for students or working people who have a limited lunch break,” Christensen said.
Another major draw for the restaurant is accordion player Keith Lewis, who has performed on weekends at Gloria’s Little Italy for the past five years.
Lewis began playing the accordion when he was just 6 years old and has played for more than 55 years. Lewis said people most commonly ask him just how many songs he knows how to play.
“I actually don’t know,” Lewis said. “But I discovered once that I can go four-and-a-half hours without repeating myself.”
Lewis plays everything from Gregorian chants and romantic Italian serenades to Disney and bar songs. His most memorable experience playing at Gloria’s Little Italy was when he played for a young, almost-deaf girl.
“I had a family come into the restaurant once,” Lewis said. “They had a little girl running around, but when I started to play she stopped and stared, frozen, not blinking.”
He said the little girl’s grandfather motioned for him to come over.
“He told me, ‘That little girl is nearly deaf, but for some reason she can hear you,'” Lewis said. “I was blown away.”
Lewis said when people listen to the accordion music throughout the restaurant, they not only hear it, but they can feel it.
“It’s a stunning experience,” Lewis said. “You may forget what you had for dinner. However, you’ll never forget how you felt, how happy you were and the people you were with.”
Restaurant server and BYU engineering student John Laymak said his favorite part of working at Gloria’s Little Italy is seeing the reactions of those who come in to dine.
“I love the reactions of people when I come back after delivering the food, and it’s already gone because they enjoyed it so much,” Laymak said. “That makes all the difficult customers worth it.”
Customers frequent the restaurant for date nights, luncheons and family dinners.
UVU Student Dallin Christiansen took a girl on a date there and said it made for a charming experience.
“The restaurant really has a good atmosphere going for it,” Christiansen said. “The layout and design makes you feel like you are in a building filled with history.”
Gloria’s Little Italy encourages followers to look out for special deals on its Facebook page as Republic Day approaches.