By the time the economy had declined last fall, orders for Carlo Conti's high-end art glass doors had already dried up.
With three children, Conti, 49, and his wife Marilena, 46, decided it was time to switch to a business that could survive the bad times ahead.
It was an easy decision.
The Contis are Italian. Their families are originally from Abruzzi, about 50 miles east of Rome.
Carlo Conti grew up in the food business. Cooking is his passion.
"It's what I know," he said.
In June, the Clearwater couple opened La Pizza Mia Pizzeria in the West Bay Plaza in Largo.
The menu includes everything from pasta dishes, calzone, stromboli, wraps, hot and cold subs, salads, soups, desserts and pizza, all made fresh each day. Wine is served in the traditional Italian way — in table glasses, not wine glasses.
Customers can ask for dishes not on the menu. For that reason, Conti said, "The menu is endless."
He uses recipes handed down for generations from both families.
Diners can eat outside in an enclosed gallery featuring walls covered with capricious food-related paintings. Or they can eat inside in a cozy setting with booths and tables.
Stained glass signs designed by Conti hang over the windows and the restaurant's striking beveled lead glass doors are also his work.
The Contis came here in 1980 with their families from Toronto. They had met briefly in Canada, but romance bloomed after moving here and they married in 1988.
What investment did it take to open the doors?
Carlo: We completely gutted the place. It was like a dungeon. With renovations, equipment and inventory, the cost to open the business was $125,000.
What do you enjoy most about this business?
Carlo: Every day is different and offers a new challenge.
Marilena: That somehow we managed to create a real feeling of home, an ambience comfortable for all ages.
How is the business doing?
Carlo: It's been steady. A lot of our business is word of mouth. Most of our customers are from the neighborhood and we get vacationers. Business is better than we ever expected.
Chris Cosdon can be reached at [email protected]