Spoleto returns in a ghostly fashion

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spoleto exteriorThe area's first Spoleto, near UCF, when it opened in 2015

Spoleto, the Brazil-based Italian assemblage restaurant that came to Central Florida in 2015 only to close last year due to the pandemic, is returning to the area, but only virtually. For now.

It will take up residence within the warehouse environment of the Dollins Food Hall, a ghost kitchen west of downtown Orlando. Laura Henderson, who was managing partner when the four Central Florida locations closed in May 2020, is once again representing the brand. In fact, when she approached Spoleto’s Brazilian owners about reopening a franchise here, they said they’d get back to her. They did, Henderson said, about an hour later and offered her the franchises for all of Florida.

Henderson said Thursday that she hopes to open the pickup- and delivery-only operation in the middle of next week. Dollins Food Hall, started by one of the founders of Uber Eats, offers its tenants minimal facilities; each brand needs to build out to their specific needs, which of course requires city permitting and inspections (read: delays).

Henderson doesn’t expect to reopen a brick and mortar restaurant until sometime in 2022 – she’s considering SoDo and Lake Nona spaces – but she definitely plans on non-virtual restaurants. “I want to make sure our guests still have an in-person experience.” At Dollins, guests picking up orders only see a vestibule – the kitchens are hidden away.

Spoleto’s concept should lend itself well to the ghost kitchen experience where online ordering forms allow users to customize their selections. At the brick and mortar restaurants, customers had to choose a type of pasta, a sauce, proteins and any toppings. This type of do-it-yourself assembly gives customers the opportunity to screw up an order themselves.

Still, Henderson said that prepandemic, before the restaurants shut down, the Winter Park Spoleto was doing approximately 24 percent of its business through third-party app deliveries. Since more people started using delivery services during Covid lockdowns, she expects those numbers to be better.

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