DiPaolo closes; cites economy, location

TURNERS FALLS — Ristorante DiPaolo, the restaurant launched almost seven years ago in a reclaimed vacant laundromat that became a promising fine-dining destination for this village, will close its doors after tonight after years of struggling in a poor economy.

“It was a good run … I’m sad and proud, too,” owner Denise DiPaolo wrote to friends Friday about her decision to close at midnight Saturday. “I’ve filed for bankruptcy. We just couldn’t keep it going.”

DiPaolo, who opened the restaurant in a long-vacant Avenue A storefront whose conversion was captured in a week-long Recorder series in 2006, said “We haven’t had enough business to keep afloat,” and she blamed the poor economy, the restaurant’s location and the long-term closure of the Turners Falls-Gill Bridge.

“It was a little bit of everything,” said DiPaolo, holding back tears as she spoke. “We were a destination location, we were fine dining, we were high end. I never thought we were more expensive than the competition, but people perceived us as such.”

The competition, she explained, included restaurants like the Farm Table in Bernardston and The Blue Heron in Sunderland, where she had worked as the floor manager before launching her own restaurant to take advantage of a Montague program selling for $1 properties that had been taken for back property taxes.

With a menu that featured “traditional authentic Mediterranean-Italian (recipes) with a little Caribbean flair,” Ristorante DiPaolo offered a homey, intimate environment that included the original brickwork in one dining room.

DiPaolo said that she noticed a decline in reservations soon after the 2008 recession began when “people just kind of pulled in their reins. Every week, for months and months and months, it’s been, ‘Do I cover the payroll or pay my taxes or pay my vendors this week? It’s been an incredible juggling act. I can’t keep it going. I’ve got to stop the bleeding. It’s sad.”

The restaurant, originally open for dinner Tuesdays through Sundays, eventually cut out Tuesday evening and began to eliminate Sundays through the winter as well.

“Starting in January,” she said, “I decided to close Sundays, because in the past, historically, we’d get four or five people on Sundays, and as we can’t run with less than five or six staff, it didn’t make sense; I wouldn’t be covering costs.”

She said that originally, she didn’t believe that having the bridge closed or restricted for repairs was affecting business, but now believes that has been a factor. She pointed to Hope and Olive and the People’s Pint in Greenfield as “always packed.” It was a harder sell consistently drawing crowds for a menu that included items like “fresh squid-ink- flavored linguini pasta mixed with a savory combination of sautéed calamari, shrimp, scallops, mussels, and fresh herbs in a zesty saffron-spiced Marinara sauce.”

DiPaolo, who has scaled back to a “skeleton crew” of nine employees, said that chef Hilton Dottin, with 35 years of professional cooking experience, has accepted a job at another restaurant, and she’s seeking to work as a restaurant manager elsewhere.

“I want to stay in the hospitality industry,” she said. “It’s my passion, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”

After losing her job as a community organizer with the Franklin County Community Development Corp., DiPaolo began working studiously for years, with memories of her Italian great-grandmother’s cooking and a hope for creating a community dining destination in a village that seemed to be having a renaissance.

“I’ve always wanted to work for myself,” she told The Recorder in its series marked by warnings of restaurants as risky businesses, with one of the highest failure rates of any kind of business. “It’s become clear over the last two years, what do I have to lose? Even if I fail at this point, I’d be able to say I gave it everything I had. I’d feel really good.”

Expressing her appreciation Friday “to everyone for their love and support,’ DiPaolo said she would welcome hearing from customers at denise_dipaolo@verizon.net.

“I really thought we could do it,” she said.

You can reach Richie Davis at
or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

So sorry to hear that you're closing. You were much better than the competition. Since you opened we haven't been back to the Blue Heron. You will be missed.

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