Dressed up, dressed down, here is a place where everyone is comfortable, and everyone is warmly welcomed. Ripe has been part of the Sudbury restaurant ecosystem for more than a decade and a half.
Ripe? Great moniker for a restaurant. How did it happen? What is the inspiration and character of the place? I had to know. I dialed up Marc Grottoli.
“We were trying to come up with the right name. We came up with a few things like ‘Grottoli’s Trattoria’, you know, the classic naming of an Italian place. It just wasn’t us.
“The thing is we were always more than Italian. Then one day I was heading out to do some errands — we were a few months away from opening — (and) I said to my wife, ‘I’m going out for a few things, when I come back we will have a name.’ And so, when I came back she said ‘How’s Ripe?’ and that was it!
“That’s what we were looking for. One-word names were kind of trendy at that time, but it was perfect then and it still works now. There were lots in Toronto that did that single word thing, and in fact, there were a couple of ‘Ripe’ already across the continent. But we didn’t know that at the time. We opened in 2005 … 16 years in March!”
You don’t just open a restaurant. There is so much work and a lot of investment beyond cash. Sweat equity is priceless. How long did Grottoli contemplate being an owner?
“I’ve been in restaurants all my life. I did the two years at George Brown, graduating from the Culinary Management Program, worked in the trenches from line cooking to baking and everything in between. Then at one point, I knew I really needed to learn front of house so I came back to Sudbury from a stage (an ‘apprenticeship’ in industry-speak) in Quebec and had been working in the west.
I was at P&M as a server for eight years. While doing that, I still felt the urge to do more, but I never thought it would be opening a restaurant. I thought it might actually be a little bakery.”
Interestingly, Grottoli is now also the principal of the well-respected Pinchman’s Café and Artisan Bakery, also located in the South End.
In terms of the location, well, maybe serendipity happened.
“So I’m driving home one day past the Times Square Mall and there was a little Chinese place that had closed their doors. It had been empty for some time. There was a ‘For Lease’ sign, so I called the landlord as I was curious to know what was going on with the spot.”
Turns out, the location was promising — there were tables, chairs, pretty much everything needed.
“It wasn’t perfect, but maybe it actually was,” Grottoli said. “We painted on top of wallpaper and reupholstered. We opened on a shoestring. The biggest expense was that pizza oven.”
He said “great support” from food-lovers helped Ripe in its early days, and that support has helped them weather the pandemic, too, Grottoli said.
“We built a reputation. We earned trust. We became a neighbourhood South End stop known for Italian flash. I don’t want to say ‘eclectic’, but we were doing things differently from others.”
He said offering fresh seasonal fare, as well as regional Italian dishes that pay proper respect “to the ingredients.” Grottoli admits to always cooking at home, and that he has a love of gardening, too. He understands where food comes from, and how to build beautiful dishes.
“I never really wanted to be known as the ‘Italian restaurant’, because we have done so much more. Cutting-edge stuff with worldly flavours. That’s really what I wanted to achieve. A broader perspective on food. Vegan options were always changed up every few weeks. When you come in there is always going to be something new; not the same every time.
“I think that is a thing that sets us apart from many others.”
Some things, though, you can never change, like lamb shank gnocchi, which has been on the menu more than 10 years. There are some things that are just so foundational; that signature dish, a certain spice, the sauce or the way something is presented that defines a place.
Ordering mushroom gnocchi, marsala gnocchi, or tandoori pizza, makes a spectacular presentation that is soul satisfying. It not only looks good, but also tastes great. Truffled fries, other tempting appetizers, many pizza choices.
“Early on, we were guided by some of the classic cookbooks. Owners should be passionate about their craft. It keeps customers coming back. Then there is more than the food and the atmosphere. Many of our staff have been with us for years. Our chef? 11 years. Our lead front of house, 12.”
He said giving his chef the space to be creative is part of Ripe’s success, but so is considering customer experience.
“At one time everything was dark — tables, ceiling, napkins. So we put in cherrywood tables and brightened things up. We raised the ceiling. Lifting it up created a more approachable feel. Yes, bring your kids, bring your business contacts for lunch. Entertain clients.”
5 p.m. it is definitely for families, and about 8 p.m., the vibe shifts.
“Sure, we soften the lighting and change the music. We have a good wine list, and maintained the same agent for sourcing since we opened. Consignment wines, unique offerings you know. Our list is extensive enough to please everyone.”
As Ontario moves into Step 2 of the reopening process and indoor dining returns, Grottoli said he is hopeful.
“We likely won’t reopen lunch until the fall. I am optimistic evenings and weekends will return to levels we once knew. We are looking forward to having them all back.”
We spent so much time on food, we almost forgot about Ripe’s cocktails. To name a few: Ripe's Red Sangria, the Mango Basil Punch, the Blueberry Lemon Lavender Smash, and the Watermelon Martini, all of which are both pleasing to the eye and the palate.
Ripe is family friendly, business friendly, welcoming guests from far and wide. Beautiful food, professionally plated and delivered by excellent attentive staff.
Everyone is welcome at Ripe. Couples, family, grandparents, celebrations, there is a broad demographic who make up the clientele. If you have not been there in years — or ever — Ripe is definitely one to add to your list.
1788 Regent Street
(The restaurant is closed until July 6, 2021 for a short summer break)
Hours of Operation
Takeout Tues.-Sat.: 3:30 - 8 p.m.
Patio open: Tues.-Sat., 4:30 - 9 p.m. (weather permitting)
Closed Sunday & Monday
Hugh Kruzel is a freelance writer and committed foodie in Greater Sudbury. Let’s Eat is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.