The deeply scarred tables are still there, etched with the names of generations of students, as are the photographs of Yale on the walls.
But mixed in with the scent of baking pizza is the unmistakable aroma of fresh paint. And although the Naples name and shield still adorn the sign above the front door, “Wall Street Pizza & Restaurant” now dominates the famed pizzeria’s storefront.
After acquiring Naples Pizza & Restaurant on Dec. 18, new owner Celso Marrichi started a face-lift two weeks ago that has added new signage and paint. And he has laid out a plan for future innovations, ranging from an expanded menu to home delivery, to bring business back to the struggling restaurant. Although nearly all the Wednesday lunchtime customers interviewed said they had positive or indifferent reactions to the changes, only a fraction said they expected the new look to pump up business.
“We’re really trying to bring it back to life,” Marrichi said.
Marrichi bought the 40-year-old pizza joint from Rose Prifitera after negotiating a long-term lease with University Properties late last year, he said. Prifitera said she had been trying to retire and sell the pizza joint for several years.
But the short-term leases offered by University Properties, which owns the space, dissuaded possible buyers, Marrichi said, although he was able to work out a deal to obtain the longer lease. He declined to comment on the length and terms of the lease an the negotiations involved.
Shana Schneider, a spokeswoman for University Properties, said the office tries to bring “mom-and-pop” businesses to the area around campus. Scnheider said she suspects University Properties took her status as an individual owner “into consideration” when determining what type of lease to offer him.
But business was and is dragging, particularly at night, and Marrichi said he is losing money.
Naples Pizza lost its liquor license in December 2001, when then-owner Anthony Prifitera did not a pay a fine ordered by the Connecticut Liquor Control Commission after the establishment was caught illegally serving alcohol to underage students.
The loss of the license caused business to decrease significantly, Marrichi said.
“Naples without a liquor license is scarcely Naples,” Ethan Prater ’95 said in an online restaurant review on Yahoo! Local. “This once-lively college pizza joint now feels like a tomb.”
Although Naples reapplied for a liquor license in November 2005 and eventually acquired it, the restaurant’s clientele did not follow.
To combat the decline in business, Marrichi said he has come up with numerous ideas to give the restaurant a different image — of which the name change and paint job are just the first steps.
In order to preserve his liquor license, he said he will enact stricter alcohol policies demanding two types of identification and requiring customers with suspected fake IDs to sign a form vouching for the validity of their identification.
Marrichi said he will clean up the notoriously messy restaurant, introduce paper menus and expand the variety of food available. In addition a few already-established new dishes, such as fried calamari, Marrichi said he will add more items, including Italian sautes and more pizza combinations. He said he also hopes to introduce a delivery option.
Before he bought the restaurant, Marrichi said he posed as a customer and felt the service was lacking, so, he explained, he hopes to re-train the current staff to create a friendlier atmosphere.
Prifitera, whose husband bought the original Naples in 1968, said she is neutral about the changes, as did several of the approximately two dozen customers in the restaurant between noon and 2 p.m. Wednesday. Many — like Yaw Anin ’06 LAW ’10, who was eating lunch at a table by the window — said they hadn’t noticed the name change until recently.
“I only noticed it yesterday,” Anin said. “But I’m going to keep calling it Naples.”
He said he thinks other patrons will continue to do the same.
Paola Allais SOM ’08 DRA ’08 and her lunch companion, Alex Acree SOM ’08, said they do not think the name change will have a significant impact on business.
“It’s a nice, upscale name,” Allais said. Acree agreed, adding that the new name would look attractive in the Yellow Pages, but such minor changes would likely have little other effect.
Tina Thomas ’09, a resident of Silliman College — located across the street from Wall Street Pizza & Restaurant — said she and her friends in her college visit the restaurant often. Thomas said she did not know the name had been changed, but she thinks the addition of a delivery service would increase business.
But some customers have expressed disappointment with the change, Marrichi said.
“People, especially the older crowd, thought [Naples] was an institution and that we shouldn’t change the name,” Marrichi said.
But Schneider said she is confident the changes will have a positive impact on business.
“I think new energy is always going to be influential,” she said. “Experiences make [a place] an institution, but the students change every four years, and people will start to know it as Wall Street Pizza.”