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A Slice of Hope

A Slice of Hope

Jack McLaughlin

Palmo Aracri serves up New York-style pizza with a side of hope for Columbus

Adorning one of the brick walls of Aracri Pizzeria is a nearly life-sized painting of Brutus the Buckeye donning graduation cap and gown and hitting the dab, all while clutching a diploma. An oversized COVID particle attempts to hide beneath his right foot, but Brutus is ready to stomp it out.

According to owner Palmo Aracri, the painting is a nod to all his OSU customers who had their graduation ceremonies robbed from them last year due to COVID.

And while the mural—with its quirky campus charm—was created first for his student clientele, it also feels like a message intended for his employees, himself, and anyone who will listen: This was an immensely difficult year, but we’re on the other side of it now.


Aracri Pizzeria seems to have channeled some of Brutus’ strength. The shop, which is going on its third year as a campus pizza spot, has done just fine in terms of sales, and managed to stay open throughout the pandemic.

But while Aracri’s other pizzeria, Cafe Nepolatina, has suffered challenges, he refuses to give up hope on his pizzeria, or the downtown his business calls home.

Cafe Napolitana has served up classic New York-style pies for nearly 30 years, but the string of protests that erupted this past June in Columbus following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer forced Aracri to shutter his pizzeria multiple times.

“When things got intense, they shut down the street, and we would have to close,” Aracri said. “We physically boarded up the store four different times this summer. I remember hearing the helicopters for days at a time.” 

In any other year, this loss of business would be harmful, but every dollar missed during COVID, according to Aracri, carries with it the sharp sting of desperation.

“We were able to get by last summer using DoorDash, Grubhub, Uber Eats. But it was dicey,” he said. “When you’re a small business owner, your day-to-day is your paycheck, so having to close; it was very worrisome.”

Plus, Palmo said, Cafe Nepolatina’s downtown location puts them in a unique situation. 

“I don’t think a lot of people realize: Downtown is not the Short North, it’s not Nationwide, it’s the vicinity of Broad and High, and that’s where we are,” Palmo said. “I used to do 80 to 90 percent lunch sales—we weren’t even open in the evenings because we didn’t have to be. There used to be Wendy’s, McDonald’s down here too, but they’re gone now.”

But despite COVID, the lull in downtown restaurant traffic, and protest-related closures, Aracri ultimately sees positive things ahead for Cafe Nepolatina. For Aracri Pizzeria. For Columbus.

For starters, he knows people still love pizza, and he’s confident in his own. 

After moving to the U.S. from Italy at a young age, Aracri began making New York-style pizza, and has done so for over 40 years now. Why not Columbus-style pies? He relocated to New Orleans with his brother at the age of 17. The restaurant he took a job at, run by family friends, made New York-style pizza, and that’s what he learned.

“There are pizza makers and pizzaiolas,” he said. “And I’m a pizzaiola.”

And Aracri works daily to keep this tradition alive, crafting everything, including his dough, from scratch. His eateries also serve up an array of mouth-watering pastas, calzones, strombolis, and more.

Aracri also has a sense about him that big things are coming for the downtown area, and not just in relation to his restaurants. 

“I think people are really itching to get out; you see it all the time now. I’ve had some customers back for lunch that I hadn’t seen all summer, and they all said they’re glad to be back downtown,” he said. “I’m very optimistic that there’s going to a renaissance here. You know, my lease is coming up shortly, and for a while I was contemplating moving, but I’ve been here for 30 years. My heart tells me to stay downtown.”


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