Ari Dreshaj was a 16-year-old in his native Sicily when he first asked his mother for cooking lessons.
After moving to the U.S. in 2005, he made cooking a profession, spending the next eight years working in Italian restaurants in Dallas, Oklahoma, New York, Kansas and Missouri, all to prepare for owning his own Italian restaurant one day.
That day has come.
Dreshaj’s new Luigi’s Italian Restaurant opened recently at 8 E. Franklin St., in Liberty’s historic downtown. Cork Brew formerly occupied the space.
“I love to cook, I love putting fresh ingredients together,” said Dreshaj, who is putting in much longer hours as an owner.
His menu includes appetizers like mussels, sliced Italian sausage and Shrimp Napoleoni, along with entree salads, chicken parmigiana, and spaghetti with meat sauce. Many of the recipes are based on those his mother taught him when he was a teenager.
Customer favorites so far are the lasagna and the Shrimp Diavolo (jumbo shrimp and vegetables sauteed in a spicy, light marinara sauce over pasta).
Luigi’s is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.Underdog Wine opens in Crestwood
Ryan Sciara co-founded Cellar Rat Wine Merchants in the Crossroads Arts District in 2006 and made it a top draw for wine loving downtown residents and workers.
But after seven years he left the company to open a shop he could call his own.
He spent six months as a stay-at-home dad to daughters, Lola, now 5, and Luca, now 3, while working on a new wine shop concept.
In February he signed a lease for the Crestwood Shops, at 319 E. 55th St., just two blocks from his home. Underdog Wine Co., which opened in early April, specializes in wine from “underdog” vineyards.
“Not the everyday wines you see in grocery stores, chain stores. Smaller productions,” Sciara said.
The 524-square-foot, long and narrow space packs in 400 different wines and 200 different spirits, along with 40 different beers and 60 different gourmet chocolate bars.
Sciara stocks wines by style or body — not by region or (grape) varietal — so the rosé wines are all together. A customer with a preference, say for a full-bodied chardonnay, may also like a viognier from the Rhône Valley.
“I want people to come in three or four times a week. To stop by on their way home and tell me what they are having for dinner so I can help pair an appropriate wine,” Sciara said.
Sciara was conservative when projecting membership for his new wine club, figuring the first members would start signing up three months in. But he already has more than 100 members, up from 80 a week ago. They pay $35-and-up for two bottles a month — “interesting, seasonal ones that I don’t normally stock,” Sciara said.
Sciara also has built business in some unexpected ways. He put out a water bowl to be neighborly. But now when dogs stop to quench their thirst, their owners have a moment to look into the shop and consider their drink options.
Several of those dog walkers are now Underdog regulars.
After getting a dog treat from Sciara, Duke, one in a set of dachshunds, made his owner stop during the next walk as he barked at the door, seeking another.
A Crestwood resident was her group’s “guinea pig,” sent in to scout prices and inventory. She found Underdog’s wines start at $9. But Sciara also recently sold one for $600.
Other customers like the little cards by each bottle detailing its aroma, palate, body and finish.
Country Club Plaza resident Joe Cambiano previously stopped in to check out the shop but came back last week to make a purchase.
“People in this neighborhood don’t want to spend a fortune but they also want some good wines, too,” he said.
It also is hosting wine tastings with California’s Slo Down Wines coming in from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday with their cross country 2014 Caddy Tour.
“I have a lot of new customers but I’m starting to see a lot of my old customers,” Sciara said. “It’s a different feeling knowing I am in control of my own destiny. When I have an idea I just do it.”
Underdog Wine Co.’s hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.