Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

The Little Italy Renaissance

After the Tide defeated the Florida Gators last year, a group of friends and I went to Little Italy to celebrate the victory with great pizza. We were greeted by a burst of inappropriate language over the sound system, heavy metal music, and food dished out of a kitchen with a health department rating of 75.

What a difference a year makes. Under the leadership of new owner George Matta and his friendly staff, the restaurant is now one of the cleanest and most hospitable dining options on The Strip. Its current health rating is 97.

Of course, the kitchen is still cranking out the same delicious pizza it always has, along with great sandwiches. The food keeps The Crimson White newsroom staff well fed throughout the week – but I would recommend caution to any student who may follow our level of overindulgence. Little Italy has accomplished an impressive rebirth, but its food should still be considered a very special treat and not a routine part of any diet.

Unlike last year, though, the food is no longer served with hostility and rude behavior. Instead, it is dished out in a welcoming atmosphere where students can enjoy a nice meal together. It’s kind of like “The Max” without Screech.

Most importantly, Little Italy is filling a niche on The Strip for students who want original, unique pizza produced by a locally owned restaurant. It has such a warm, homegrown feel that it’s surprising the University hasn’t bought the place and leased it to Domino’s.

With the closing of Pepito’s and Lai Lai over the summer, Little Italy is one of the few remaining places we can point to as an exclusive mark of our community. Stuffing your face with cheesy bread at Hungry Howie’s is fine – especially if it is 2 a.m. and there is no place else to go. But the quality of pizza at Hungry Howie’s is never going to match that at Little Italy, and it can hardly be described as unique.

Little Italy has also taken an active role in the community. After the April 27 tornado, the restaurant distributed 500 pizzas to shelters and relief workers.

“We can’t go and use bulldozers to remove debris, but we can bring food,” Matta told The Crimson White following the storm.

Behind all the outward signs of Matta’s good stewardship of his restaurant is a larger picture. In the middle of a bad economy and in the midst of increased competition from other restaurants moving to The Strip, Little Italy has successfully proven that small businesses can be successful by focusing on their customers and outperforming their competition. The restaurant has shown that even bad and faltering businesses can turn themselves around.

Little Italy today is a testament to our Strip and a contributor to our collegiate community. It is a testament to how students – with their money and business – can support local entrepreneurs that are responsive, even if they are overcoming a bad reputation.

I hope Little Italy’s renaissance will set a good example for other entities on The Strip trying to reinvent themselves to accommodate the changing needs of our campus and attract other business owners to the area that can offer more options for students.

Little Italy’s success has occurred just as our Strip has come under increasing danger of chains and real estate promotions. Maybe its success will help it become one of the establishments that can preserve The Strip’s identity.


Tray Smith is the opinions editor of The Crimson White. His column runs on Thursdays. 

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