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St. Petersburg’s Nueva Cantina launches virtual Italian restaurant Louie’s

The family recipes of Nueva managing partner Louie Spetrini drive the takeout-only operation.
Nueva Cantina's new virtual restaurant, Louie's Italian Eatery, serves up dishes like bruschetta exclusively for pickup and delivery in St. Petersburg.
Nueva Cantina's new virtual restaurant, Louie's Italian Eatery, serves up dishes like bruschetta exclusively for pickup and delivery in St. Petersburg. [ Lisa Williams ]
Published Apr. 9, 2020|Updated Apr. 9, 2020

A new virtual restaurant is heating up the Nueva Cantina kitchen.

Nueva managing partner Louie Spetrini and co-owners Rocco and Erin Rinaldi have launched Louie’s Italian Eatery, making their St. Petersburg Mexican spot the latest Tampa Bay restaurant to grow its takeout business with a digital spinoff.

Led by Spetrini, Louie’s started taking orders on March 30. The restaurant within a restaurant churns out Southern Italian classics exclusively for pickup and delivery.

Spetrini said he and the Nueva crew rolled out Louie’s in response to COVID-19. They were brainstorming different ideas to stay afloat during the pandemic, and a virtual restaurant was one of them.

“I took that and ran with it,” Spetrini said. “I didn’t say anything to any of them and then presented the concept, the menu, the whole thing. … [Louie’s is] between 20 to 30 percent of my sales daily right now.”

Related: A list of Tampa Bay restaurants that are offering takeout during the coronavirus
Nueva Cantina's new virtual restaurant, Louie's Italian Eatery, serves up dishes like stuffed shells exclusively for pickup and delivery in St. Petersburg.
Nueva Cantina's new virtual restaurant, Louie's Italian Eatery, serves up dishes like stuffed shells exclusively for pickup and delivery in St. Petersburg. [ Lisa Williams ]

Showcasing rich, marinara-based entrees, Louie’s focuses on family recipes that Spetrini has cooked for four decades. He learned how to make them from his grandfather, who opened a restaurant in Rhode Island after emigrating from Italy in 1938.

Several of the dishes were also on the lineup of an Atlanta restaurant that Spetrini owned many years ago called Big Red Tomato.

Louie’s menu items include bruschetta, calamari, Italian wedding soup, signature subs, lasagna, chicken Parmesan and various desserts.

“I do all the cooking, all the prepping, all the recipes. That’s my baby, and the rest of the team does Nueva,” he said.

Opening Louie’s as a virtual restaurant was more of a logistical hurdle than a concept issue. Spetrini said the Nueva kitchen needed to be reconstructed to accommodate two restaurants, ensuring one wouldn’t interfere with the other.

Nueva uses the front half to execute its full lineup of modern Mexican bites, while Louie’s does its thing in the back. Both keep their food interesting with daily specials and family meals.

To score Louie’s for lunch or dinner, visit Nueva Cantina to place an on-site takeout order — Spetrini said the restaurant is following all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines — or call in advance for curbside pickup. Delivery is available through Uber Eats.

Related: Tampa sushi restaurant Zukku rolls out takeout concept at 717 South

As for Nueva, the gang has set up a package store out front to offer sealed containers of premade margaritas alongside the munchies. They’ve also partnered with four third-party delivery services: Uber Eats, DoorDash, Grubhub and Bite Squad.

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Spetrini and company even have another virtual restaurant in the works. This weekend, they plan to debut a barbecue joint from the Nueva food truck.

“Now you’re going to be able to get three types of food,” Spetrini said. “It’s just a way to survive. That’s the angle.”

1625 Fourth St. S, St. Petersburg. (727) 851-9579. louies.kitchen.

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