When David DiCenso, owner of the popular Tewksbury Italian eatery Luna Rossa, decided it was time to spruce up his 21-year-old business,
he didn’t fool around.
DiCenso took a look and decided that, not just his restaurant, but the entire Keri Plaza location could use a facelift.
“We were looking to leave,” he admitted. “I was looking for a possible new location. It got to the point where every day I’d get out of my car,” DiCenso said, “and I’d say to myself, ‘I hate this place. It’s so ugly and so dated.’”
But instead of moving, he decided to do something about it. He bought the whole darned thing last summer.
With all that space, DiCenso could now expand Luna Rossa. For starters, he took over a onetime tropical fish store next door and converted it into a function room replete with its own bar that can accommodate up to 100 people for meetings, anniversaries and weddings. It also serves as overflow space on busy nights.
Major renovations were completed at the end of November.
Longtime customers will notice more subtle changes in Luna Rossa’s main dining room. Though the basic footprint is the same, the vestibule has been moved to the right and a glassed-in front area now features high-topped tables. There is new paint with soft earth tones, new flooring, better lighting, and renovated and enlarged bathrooms.
Even the large mural that once dominated one of Luna Rossa’s walls is gone. It was of a time, and that time is now gone. But DiCenso made sure a miniature black-and-white version hangs in a hallway.
The end result is a new Luna Rossa with a more inviting ambiance and modern feel.
What hasn’t changed, though, is DiCenso’s commitment to classic Italian cuisine. He can’t help it. It’s in his DNA. His family has a long history tied to quality local Italian restaurants with names like Davio’s and Donatella’s.
One relative with that pedigree, his uncle Nino, has been Luna Rossa’s head chef for two years. You have to ask yourself: What serious fan of Italian cuisine could pass up any eatery that has, literally, an Uncle Nino in the kitchen overseeing everything?
All the breads, sausages, and pastas are made in-house. Nino wouldn’t have it any other way. Though most entrees hover around $20, daily specials can go a little richer and include the likes of veal chops, baked stuffed lobster, and duck.
Ask DiCenso what a first-time customer should sample, and his response is immediate. Stick to basics, he advises: Bolognese, gnocchi, or even the porcini-crusted sirloin.
DiCenso has seen a lot of changes since Luna Rossa opened its doors over two decades ago. “With the Food Network and celebrity chef shows, people are into trying new things. We’ll have tripe and pork belly on the menu, for example,” he said. “We couldn’t have done that in the early days.
“Also, there is way more competition. So we’ve definitely had to step up our game and try to get better every day, even if it’s the little things.”
Or even if it’s the big things … like buying a whole stinkin’ plaza.