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Pinocchio’s restaurant looking for new owner

By Amanda Raymond
amanda.raymond@salisburypost.com

SPENCER — No, Pinocchio’s restaurant is not closing, but the restaurant is for sale.

Giuseppe Lopriore and Tracy Aitken have been running the restaurant together since 2005. They recently announced that they are selling the restaurant so that Lopriore can help his mother back in Italy.

Lopriore’s mother has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and needs help during crop harvesting time. Aitken’s parents are in Florida and she also drives down to help them.

Aitken said she thinks the owners of a small business need to be more hands-on, and she and Lopriore are becoming less able to do that.

“We don’t want to be absentee owners who watch it fall apart,” she said.

Aitken said they are in no rush to sell the restaurant. For the last year, Lopriore has been training employee Rebecca Short to do the cooking. Anthony Nero, who manages the dining room, has been working at the restaurant for five years.

If they have not found a buyer by the time Lopriore has to leave, Short will be able to take over the cooking and Aitken will stay to manage the business side. If Aitken’s parents need her in Florida, she will let Nero manage things.

“There are already nights that we take off,” Aitken said about her and Lopriore. “(Short and Nero) are 100 percent capable of running the restaurant when we’re not here.”

Pinocchio’s business has been building in the last eight years. Most regular customers know that if they don’t make a reservation on Thursday, Friday or Saturday, they might get turned away because the restaurant is too full.

About 35-40 percent of the restaurant’s business comes from the county and another 35-40 percent comes from Davidson County. The restaurant also serves as a halfway point to other destinations for 10-15 percent of the customer base.

There are about 3,200 customers on the restaurant’s email list. Aitken said that email list of loyal customers comes with the restaurant, so they want to find an owner who will keep the restaurant what it already is.

Aitken said Short and Nero can do all the heavy lifting when it comes to running the restaurant. The new owner will be able to create their own specials to make their mark on the restaurant, but they cannot change what customers have come to expect from Pinocchio’s.

“We are not going to just hand this gem … to some hack who wants to open a Japanese-Mexican fusion place,” Aitken wrote in an email to customers. “What we do works, and we have a huge customer base and we will not disappoint them by closing our doors and putting our hard-working employees out of a job.”

One thing a new owner could change is the amount of hours Pinocchio’s is open. Right now, the restaurant is only open 26 hours a week and those hours are the opposite of the N.C. Transportation Museum’s hours across the street.

She said she and Lopriore decided to limit the hours so they could have a life outside of the restaurant.

“You have to have a life, but the next owners might want to go in a different direction,” Aitken said.

The next owners could open the restaurant for breakfast, lunch and on Sundays if they wanted to make more money.

“(The next owners) are going to find that it’s an income-producing, fulfilling job,” Aitken said.

Aitken said she hopes the next owner is a customer and lover of the restaurant and has always wanted to own their own restaurant. She said she will be there to help and guide the owner if needed.

Aitken said they are willing to wait for the right owner to come along and carry on the Pinocchio’s tradition.

“We’re not a fire sale,” she said. “We’re not in a rush.”

Contact reporter Amanda Raymond at 704-797-4222.

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