Just beyond the walls of the newly-relocated and expanded Alfredo’s Ristorante Italiano in downtown Clinton, Bible scriptures are written on the foundation. Owners Alfredo and Samantha DiPinto knew that their new venture would only succeed if it was built on humility and faith.
Those Biblical passages were etched on the bare-bones walls within the two-story structure at the corner of Wall and Main streets in downtown Clinton in the fall of 2014. On Tuesday, a much-anticipated project came to fruition as the rehauled brick structure was opened to the public a mere hundred feet away from where Alfredo’s has already enjoyed six successful years.
Since April 29, 2010, Alfredo’s has established itself as a staple of quality authentic Italian cuisine in the heart of Sampson. Its immense popularity resulted in a 2,500-square-foot space that was quickly outgrown amid an expanding loyal customer base, leading to the relocation to Wall and Main’s two stories and 12,000 square feet just across the street.
DiPinto said the measure of the move hasn’t hit him yet with the bustle, but noted he is blessed and extremely humbled by the positive reaction the new iteration of the restaurant has already received from the public.
“A couple people have asked me ‘Has it hit you yet?’ Frankly, it hasn’t,” DiPinto said. “The only reflection time I’ve had is Saturday night when we had the (old) restaurant empty. It was a little nostalgic, a little emotional, just to think about the six years that have gone by in that location and how wonderful it’s been. That’s about as nostalgic as I’ve gotten, but I’ve been running at about 120 miles per hour. It’ll hit me, I know it will.”
On Tuesday morning, Alfredo’s new addition of a coffee bar offering cappuccino, espresso and other iced coffee treats opened to the public ahead of the restaurant’s opening that night. The coffee bar is expected to be a mainstay from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday. A coffee/wine bar was originally part of the plan, but it was going to be during regular hours. Having it in operation during the morning hours gives another early option for patrons who want to get something when the restaurant is not yet open, DiPinto noted.
The expanded eatery will continue to be open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The business is closed on Sundays, a family policy.
“One of my goals in opening Alfredo’s is to provide an environment that fosters the spirit of family and hospitality,” a chalk sign welcoming customers to the business read.
Although it came with a great deal of work from DiPinto and his staff, the move is a seamless transition for the public.
“We actually weren’t closed at all,” he said. “Saturday night was our last night. We closed Saturday night and my wonderful crew moved us from the old location into the new location Saturday night and Sunday.”
Feedback from diners has been overwhelmingly positive throughout the ordeal.
“People have been incredibly supportive, even when we were in our other building. There is a lot of anticipation. There are a lot of people looking forward to this. We wanted people to say ‘wow, this is in Clinton?’” said DiPinto, who praised Tammy Norris for the interior design and decor. “We’ve had people from out of town — from Raleigh, from Charlotte, from out of the state — that have seen the building. They relate this building to buildings in their larger cities.”
“That’s incredibly satisfying and gratifying. It’s also incredibly humbling,” DiPinto continued. “I stressed to the staff what an incredible responsibility we have too.”
A solid foundation
For years, Alfredo’s was hampered by its size, both in the kitchen and with dining.
While about 75-80 diners could be accommodated in the former location, 100 people can be seated on the ground floor alone at the new one. A banquet room upstairs can seat another 150-175, along with an adjacent private dining room that can accommodate an additional 35-40. Another key component in the expansion is the kitchen, triple the size of the current one.
Orders could take a while to get out before, the direct result of having a small kitchen. A bigger kitchen means food at a faster pace and a larger quantity, a “primary motivation” for the move, DiPinto said.
Likewise, staff has already doubled, with plans to hire more people. There were about 10-11 employees at the former Alfredo’s, and currently there are 22 part- and full-time employees to man the new facility.
“I’ve got quality people working for me,” said DiPinto, “and we’re looking for some additional quality people to add.”
Within a week of closing on the property Sept. 26. 2014, Alfredo and Samantha were writing on the foundation — a detail he has not shared with everybody and does not offer as throw-away commentary.
“We went through the building when it was raw, when all it was was metal stud and a little bit of sheet rock. We filled the building with scripture, on stud, on the drywall, on the brick, just everywhere — upstairs, downstairs, in the basement,” said DiPinto. “We recognize one thing, and that’s very simple: if God is not in what we’re doing, then we are setting ourselves up for failure. That is our principle in life and that’s why we did what we did.”
Ever the businessman, DiPinto knows his patrons expect quality, home-cooked authentic Italian cuisine, family recipes that are closely guarded and made with love. But at the heart of those dishes everyone enjoys is also a family of faith.
When the construction process started, and the scriptures were displayed, the messages of those verses had an impact.
Construction workers commented to DiPinto about the passages and he explained to them his intention and how they related to many of the things — protection, wisdom, favor — that Samantha and Alfredo prayed for, especially during one of life’s significant chapters and a large personal investment of time and money.
One day, DiPinto came back to the building to take a look after the drywall was put up. What he found was amazing. Nearly all of the Biblical verses had been copied onto the drywall from the metal stud beneath.
“That’s a testimony in itself,” he said. “(The construction crew) would rewrite the scripture from underneath and it was on the drywall. It brought tears to my eyes. That was one of the affirmations I received that we were moving in the right direction.”
A Main Street Solutions Fund grant supporting the renovation and reuse of historic buildings in downtowns allowed the couple to upfit some aspects of the building, reimbursing 30 cents to every dollar up to $200,000. The project was always going to move forward, but that assistance allowed for some detail work to be accomplished.
“That was once again, another confirmation,” DiPinto attested. “We have gotten numerous confirmations that we were on the right track.”
Developer Vince Burgess, who acquired the Wall and Main building in 2009, christened the outside of the building with the gift of an Italian marble cornerstone.
“When we first started this process, I wanted to get a piece of Italian marble and make a cornerstone for him and Samantha to give it that touch,” Burgess remarked.
He scoured for imported Italian marble, but had no luck. When Burgess bought the Henry Vann building in the downtown as part of a separate enterprise, Donald Starling informed Burgess that he had a piece of the flooring from that building taken from the structure before they remodeled it in the 1960s.
“They were throwing those things out and were going to chuck it in the trash, and I went and got some,” Burgess recalled Starling saying. “Donald Starling had kept this piece and gave it to me last year in 2015. The whole time I’m trying to get this stone and he gave those to me. It was like a eureka moment.”
The slab had been imported from Italy by Henry Vann, kept by Donald Starling in Clinton and given to Burgess, who was able to cut it. He then gave it to Quincy Edgerton at N.C. Marble and Granite to do the etching and Robert Stroud place it.
“It’s a hundred-year-old piece of stone that’s been in Clinton,” Burgess added. “So you have an Italian immigrant getting Italian marble from a channel 50 years long from four guys in Clinton. It all ties together.”
Stroud laid the stone on Monday, with the Alfredo’s logo, the names of proprietors Alfredo and Samantha DiPinto and the date of establishment.
DiPinto, who eschews the spotlight and prefers to “fly under the radar,” said he wasn’t sure about having his name etched in stone but said he was surprised and grateful for the gift.
“I didn’t know that was in the works. We wanted that corner fixed from an accident that happened four or five years ago, and Vince said ‘I have it covered.’ And all of a sudden he shows up about a week ago with that Italian marble. That is from the Vann building, which is historical in itself,” said DiPinto, who often credits the many property owners and developers in the downtown who paved the way for his and other enterprises that now thrive in the heart of Sampson County.
“He showed it to me, and what a surprise,” he said of the etched cornerstone. “It’s a wonderful gift.”
The stone also perfectly, and succinctly, sums up what the DiPintos wrote on the walls over a year and half ago. At the bottom of the marble, it lists one Biblical verse — Psalm 127:1. That Scripture states in part, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.”
“I think people need to know that is where my trust lies,” DiPinto said.
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.