Questions spiral around Touch of Italy’s Milford location

MILFORD – When will Italian bakery, deli and restaurant Touch of Italy open in Milford?

This question is on the tip of the tongues for many Milford residents and business owners after a year and a half of anticipation turns into disappointment.

Touch of Italy owners Bob Ciprietti and Joseph Curzi announced their purchase of the former M&T Bank building located at 1 NW Front Street in downtown Milford in June 2016, two years after Milford Mayor Bryan Shupe started courting the pair to join the ranks of entrepreneurship in Milford.

In purchasing the property in 2016, the owners said they hoped to maintain the historic theme of the building amidst a dining room, deli, private dining area to be located inside a bank vault, a bar inside another vault and possibly a dining room overlooking the main floor.

The goal was to start construction the day after purchasing the building.

Some construction has been completed in the building since then. However, plans fell short and it remains unoccupied with no opening date.

Mayor Shupe said he spoke with the Touch of Italy owners in the beginning of December to obtain an update of his own. According to Mayor Shupe, they said they will have completed the offices where the drive thru used to be by January 2018.

“After they finished that construction, they plan on working on the rest,” Mr. Shupe said. “That’s the information they have given me.”

A call to Touch of Italy’s Lewes location was met with a different response. The unnamed employee who answered the phone said, “I have no word on the Milford location, but don’t expect it to open.”

Calling their Rehoboth Beach location yielded a similar result. Over the phone, another employee said that they knew of no plans to continue in the Milford location and the company was refocusing attention to a newer location in Christiana “because we think it will be a bigger draw.”

Meanwhile, residents and community members are beginning to wonder about what will happen with the former M&T Bank.

Milford resident Nadia Zychal said, “I hope that either Touch of Italy can resolve whatever issues are preventing them from opening their restaurant or free that space for another destination restaurant.  It would be a shame if that beautiful building was only used for office space.”

The historic, 100-year-old building is located in Milford’s Downtown Development District, a program run by the Delaware State Housing Authority which would allow the owners to receive up to 20 percent back in grant funding for construction costs.

To receive the funds, they must pay for the work first and submit receipts to prove its completion. Small grants would be granted on a first-come, first-served basis and limited to a total of two $50,000 awards per facility or building. Larger grants could be reserved through the Delaware State Housing Authority.

According to the city of Milford’s website and Mayor Shupe, Mr. Curzi requested $50,000 through the Downtown Development District program claiming a private investment of $250,000 under the name Il Nostro Locale, LLC for the “renovation of vacated bank into an Italian Restaurant.”

The website and Mayor Shupe also state Mr. Ciprietti requested $50,000 through the program, claiming another private investment of $250,000 under Touch of Italy Milford, LLC.

“They haven’t received any state grant money under the DDD project because it hasn’t been completed yet,” Mayor Shupe said.

Touch of Italy Milford, LLC. has, however, received a city waiver of $695 for “exterior renovations and improvements,” according to the city of Milford’s website and confirmed by Mayor Shupe who added the renovations were for the drive thru area to accommodate the office space usage.

Bobby Pancake of High 5 Hospitality which partnered with Touch of Italy to run some of the restaurant’s administrative processes also made no comment and referred The Chronicle to Mr. Ciprietti and Mr. Curzi. Phone calls to the pair have not been returned.

Jennifer Antonik can be reached at mc@newszap.com

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