Restaurant owners operating in Brooklyn, and even all across America, haven’t had many reasons to be optimistic lately. Government pandemic assistance has largely fallen flat, predictions about closings are bleak, and regular customers are lower than ever on extra spending money. It’s understandable that many in the industry are full of panic, and sadness. Francesco and Meghan Nucitelli, owners of the soon-to-open SOCIALE, are the exception.
They ir restaurant, SOCIALE, operated successfully for six years in Brooklyn Heights until February of last year, when they decided to move it to the nearby Carroll Gardens, to a space with double the room. Department of Buildings permits and delays left them on pause for a year, and a month later came the pandemic stop-work orders of March. Despite these delays, and the uncertainty that comes with planning on opening in a colder month, the perfectly in sync husband and wife team say everything with a laugh and a smile in their voice.
“Everybody’s in the same boat here. It’s all taking everything day by day, that’s really the only thing you can do,” Meghan Nucitelli said. The new SOCIALE hopes to be open by October, in the long-empty space on the corner at 320 Court Street. They hope for a 50% indoor capacity to be allowed once the weather turns cold.
In a time when many have landlord horror stories about jacked-up rents and lack of patience, the Nucitelli’s gave an enthusiastic shout-out to their landlord, Urban Standard Capital, for the incredible interior renovations they made. The new space will have a basement for private dining, a full bar, and a coffee program in the mornings.
“Everybody that lives in the community loves that space. It used to be very popular and it’s been vacant for a couple of years now, since 2016, so everybody in the neighborhood is ready for it to come alive again,” Meghan said.
Much of the menu will be familiar to those who loved the Brooklyn Heights iteration of SOCIALE, with extended hours.
The restaurant serves Italian cuisine, like fresh pastas, veal chops, and towering burgers. Guests can expect high-end service in a relaxed environment, a combination of their professional training and laid-back personalities, the pair says. Both yoga pants and special occasion parties are equally as welcome. Since opening regulations are still uncertain for October, the official interior plan is murky, but both are confident that they have enough room to house guests safely distanced and still maintain quality service.
The pair met while working as managers at the Midtown restaurant Il Gatopardo, Francesco as a floor manager and Meghan more behind-the scenes. Two years later, they decided to open their own space. Their wedding was held at the restaurant in which they met, during the midst of the chaos of moving to Carroll Gardens.
“It was beautiful,” Francesco said emphatically.
The positivity and friendliness that both radiate is obvious also in the level of staff retention that they have. Almost 70% of the staff has been with the pair since the restaurant’s beginning, and most of those even before that.
“Some of the guys we have managing [at SOCIALE] were dishwashers ten years ago when I was managing this little trattoria in the East Village. We all grew together. I became an owner from a waiter, and some of them became assistant managers from being dishwashers. I think it’s very special and I am really, really proud of this,” Francesco said. When they originally decided to move spaces, they made sure to save enough to pay their staff members at nearly their full salary for six months during the process.
While the delays happened at 320 Court, Meghan and Francesco decided to make the best of their time away from SOCIALE, starting a YouTube channel, CASA SOCIALE, in which they cook some of their favorite dishes for their 1,400 subscribers.
“We cook good food,” Francesco says as he starts one of the videos.
“And love each other,” Meghan chimes in. “That’s the most important thing. And wine.” The channel was started as a way to maintain social media presence during their hiatus and came perfectly for a newly homebound Brooklyn demographic looking for things to cook. The pair plan on continuing the channel once they reopen.
Both Meghan and Francesco, who now live a nine-minute walk from the new space, say that the neighborhood response has been incredible.
“It’s so flattering, because we have people stopping us on the street asking us if we are the new business coming to 320. We are surprised they even know us. It’s so beautiful, it’s so flattering, and we are so excited by that.”
SOCIALE will be located at 320 Court Street, corner of Sackett street.