Seven months after opening Bardea Food & Drink on Market with Chef Antimo DiMeo, two months after learning the restaurant was a James Beard Award semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant in the country … owner Scott Stein decided it was time to expand.
(Well, truth be told, the timing wasn’t exactly up to him. “In a perfect world, we probably would have waited a little bit longer. But it was too good an opportunity.”)
That opportunity came in the form of DECO Wilmington, the food hall collective that houses eight chef-driven food stalls including Pizzeria Bardea, where guests can order one of seven Neapolitan-style pizzas like “Bird” with roasted chicken and pickled ramps, and the “Spicy Pig” with adobo rubbed pork, honey and chives, or a salad. (Really, they are very nice-looking salads which, full disclosure, we have not tried, because pizza.)
The whirlwind that is Bardea have taken Market by storm, but as Scott reminds us, it wasn’t without a lot of hard work and a few bumps along the way…
“You know, a restaurant is like a baby. I think a lot of inexperienced or first-time restaurateurs sometimes make the mistake of not recognizing that you have a baby on your hands and you have to nurture it and let it grow up.”
“We missed the mark the first two weeks with Bardea. It wasn't connecting. We did small plates and we did large plates, but our large plates were not ideal for sharing. So we said, you know, if everyone is sharing small plates -- and the joke has always has been our small plates aren't so small -- let's make our large plates a little larger and take the same approach. Now if six people are dining and they want to get a 45- or 60-ounce ribeye, it's perfect for sharing and you can really experience all different kinds of things.”
Another all-different kind of thing – the James Beard nomination – placed Bardea on a “long list” of the top 30 best new restaurants on the United States.
“The Beard nomination, and the fact that we got it so quick -- and we're so blessed that it happened, we weren't expecting it – it forced us to take a good look at ourselves in the mirror and grow up a little faster than we planned.”
“Antimo and I have done a lot of interviews, gotten a lot of press, but I recognize it's a lot of people behind the scenes who make us successful. From the dishwashers to the hosts to our accounting company to payroll -- everyone wore their heart on their sleeve that month we were waiting for the Beard announcement. Everyone really rose to the occasion. People pushed themselves in ways that, frankly, I haven't seen in 25 years in this business. We’ve had emotional lineups where people were crying from the emotion, from how passionate they were about being recognized. I’m working with family now. We have a bond over here now, that no matter what, these are people that we went through trenches with.”
That family expanded on April 18 when DECO opened its doors.
“We're so new at the restaurant, we didn't want to conflict with but we had. But, you know, the pizzeria concept was supposed to open up before Bardea, and we had a plan. We had one of our sous chefs, Amanda, who was going to be full-time at the pizzeria, and Antimo and I share our time between both places.”
“I feel like the tipping point is happening in Wilmington right now. It’s a big party at DECO and we didn't want to miss it. And we thought it'd be great for brand recognition. I already have seen a lot of people who come in for a pizza and drink at the bar at DECO and then they come down to the restaurant and get some apps and drinks. It's working out pretty well.”
So now Scott and Antimo can rest on their laurels a little bit, except, no.
“Every day we're learning something new over at Pizzaria Bardea, like the little baby it is. And now we're opening up our outside cafe at Bardea, which will be a great addition – 26 more seats. They're going to be out front, on the Market Street side. We're going to have a beautiful, semi-enclosed space over there. And that's all happening in the next two weeks.”