Mercato 1
Architectural renderings of Mercato Italiano | All images courtesy of Ole Restaurant Group

OLE Restaurant Group announced it will open a combined Italian market and restaurant this December in the former Scotty’s Market site at 10640 Meeting St. in Norton Commons.

Dubbed Mercato Italiano, the concept will mark the third restaurant opened in three months by the dynamic restaurant team led by Fernando, Christina and Yaniel Martinez.

This particular project will see Rick Moir added to the management-ownership team. Previously, Moir has overseen operations at multiple OLE Restaurant Group sites.

“And he’s really the one that made this deal come together,” said Fernando Martinez.

Mercato Italiano’s opening will follow the late November closure of Cena, its upscale-casual Italian restaurant located in the basement of Mussel & Burger Bar restaurant in J-Town. But according to Martinez, Mercato will not be a reincarnation of Cena as some expect.

Mercato 3“Some of the dishes from Cena will make it to Mercato, but overall we want it to be very casual, especially at lunch,” said Martinez, who serves as the group’s executive chef over all its restaurants. “We’ll have a market aspect to the restaurant: (refrigerated) cases where we’ll sell Italian cheeses, bread, fine olive oil and vinegar, charcuterie, meatballs and lasagna, and sauce and homemade pasta.”

Mercato also will sell Italian sweet treats such as tiramisu and cannoli, and whole picnic basket meals for take-home. The business also is working to obtain a package liquor and wine license. Currently, the only Norton Commons business that sells package beverage alcohol is Commonwealth Tap, a bar about two blocks away.

Though its menus aren’t complete, Martinez said lunch will feature sandwiches, flatbreads, pasta dishes and salads, and check averages will be $15 or less. At night, where more substantial protein dishes will be offered, check averages will hover closer to $25.

The 100-seat restaurant will include a full bar, “which was something we lacked at Cena,” Martinez said. And just as they’ve done at Artesano Vino Tapas y Mas, the group’s new restaurant in Westport Village, “we’ll do some special cocktails for Mercato, too.”

Martinez chose current Cena chef de cuisine James Swihart to fill the same role at Mercato, while Serge Katz will serve as his sous chef. Katz brings an extensive Italian food pedigree as a veteran of Vincenzo’s Italian Restaurant and Cena.

Martinez said OLE Restaurant Group has worked on plans for Mercato for many months, but the team never considered Norton Commons as its final location until residents started urging them to build a restaurant there.

Mercato 4“People were asking us when we were going to open in Norton Commons, just customers who wanted us to come there,” he said. “It was something that started as rumor but became reality.”

One of those fans is Jerry Zegart, who helped convince Martinez an eatery of OLE Restaurant Group quality would work in Norton Commons.

Zegart said that while numerous high-profile restaurateurs looked at the Scotty’s space, when rumors circulated that Martinez & Co. might come, the buzz became substantial.

“When you think of Mercato coming in addition to Citizen 7 (modern Mexican) and 502 (sports bar), it shows how Norton Commons is becoming a destination place for restaurants,” Zegart said. “Some people have said there’s not enough critical mass, enough people around here to make this work, but that’s crazy. There are plenty of people who live in the area.”

Not to mention people with money. The area and its surrounding communities are some of the Metro’s wealthiest.

Zegart said Norton Commons’ residents envision their community becoming a “place where you park your car for the weekend and walk everywhere you go. With restaurants like those coming now — not to mention Corbett’s a mile away and World of Beer coming — it’s a game-changer to get Mercato here.”

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Steve Coomes
Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 24-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Louisville magazine, Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass and Food & Dining Magazine. The author of two books, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and the "Home Distiller's Guide to Spirits," he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.