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Longou hopes to open Red Vespa pizzeria in May

abatement, parking variance approved

By Doug Lindner
Solon Economist
SOLON– The wheels are officially turning on the Red Vespa.
Solon City Council members approved a site plan and a tax abatement application on Feb. 18 for a proposed downtown pizzeria that is expected to open as early as May.
Red Vespa Pizzeria is located at 208 E. Main St., and will feature a handmade wood-fired brick oven baking Neapolitan pizza, according to co-owner Aziz Longou of Solon.
Council members gave their green light for the new Main Street eatery by waiving parking requirements and approving a 10-year tax abatement plan.
Although the actual site will not be altered, the interior of the building’s main level will be converted from office use to a restaurant. When the building permit was filed, the plan underwent review, City Administrator Cami Rasmussen told council members.
The only real concern noted by City Engineer Dave Schechinger related to the possibility of installing a sprinkler system, something that would require a larger water line. That would mean excavation of the sidewalk and other streetscape improvements that were part of the larger Main Street reconstruction project completed in 2012.
Rasmussen noted other options exist for fire protection, but Longou subsequent to the meeting said his architect was working on the issue with Solon’s building inspector, Steve Lee.
“I just want to have my pizza place open,” Longou said.
Other recommendations from Schechinger included waiving the requirement for on-site parking, something the council has done for other downtown establishments such as Big Grove Brewery.
“The Red Vespa Pizzeria would seem to fall into the same category,” Schechinger noted in his report.
“It’s a good problem to have,” said Mayor Steve Stange. “Parking is a problem in downtown.”
Council members unanimously approved the site plan with the parking waiver, as well as the 10-year tax abatement on the value added to the property.
Commercial businesses in the Main Street area fall under Commercial District 1 of the city’s urban revitalization plan, Rasmussen said. According to an application filed by Longou, nearly $400,000 worth of improvements will be made to the property.
Once the assessed value is established, a percentage of the city’s property tax on the added value will be abated on a sliding scale from 80 to 20 percent over a period of 10 years.
“I, for one, have heard a lot of people that are excited about you coming to town,” Stange said.
Longou said he hopes to have Red Vespa open in May. His architect has indicated a 90-120 day timeframe for the project once the building permit has been approved, he said.
Red Vespa is a project several years in the making, according to Longou.
Over the last three years, he said, he’s looked at possible locations in North Liberty, Iowa City and Solon, all the while amassing equipment.
The rural Solon resident has been involved in the restaurant industry for decades, moving eventually from dishwasher to co-owner of Vito’s in Iowa City, and co-owning Vito’s on 42nd in Cedar Rapids and Bushnell’s Turtle in Iowa City in the 1990s. Bushnell’s Turtle became Martini’s, with Longou still involved. The other two restaurants were sold.
Longou said Red Vespa Pizzeria will focus on Neapolitan pizza, but will also offer pasta, panini sandwiches and salads, as well as a full-service bar in a casual, family-friendly setting that can seat roughly 70 patrons.
“It will be beautiful,” Longou said.
Red Vespa will also feature a small, outdoor eating area with room for about 20 patrons, Longou said.
The cornerstone will be a handmade, wood-fired brick oven made by one of the Acunto brothers of Naples, part of a family that has been making the ovens since 1892. The oven will weigh 5,000 pounds and will bake the pizzas at high temperatures quickly. Longou spent 10 days studying the process at a popular East Coast pizzeria that cranks out as many as 400 pizzas a day.