Italian eatery Trevioli grows from storage unit to full-size restaurant

Trevioli Artisan Pasta Company, a popular Columbus restaurant that has operated out of a simple storage unit on Tower Road for three years, is preparing to expand in a major way through a relocation to brand new space on Blackmon Road.

Owner Trevor Morris and Columbus businessman Sanjay Choudhury, who is developing a commercial building near the Walmart Neighborhood Market on Blackmon Road, said Monday they are 50-50 partners in the venture that will bring Trevioli’s current seafood, lamb, duck and pasta dishes — along with an expanded menu — to the new location.

To be called Trevioli Italian Kitchen, the new restaurant will be setting up in a 3,500-square-foot dining space that will also have covered outdoor patio seating, a full bar, a corner stage for entertainment, and possibly an area for accommodating private parties. In all, there will be about 180 seats in the restaurant when it opens, with a target date of sometime in February. The Tower Road eatery will be closed by that time.

“I don’t know that it’s fully hit me yet,” Morris said. “I never thought that this would happen to a guy like me in my life. I had some fairly humble beginnings. Opening the storage unit was the coolest thing that had ever happened to me, and now this,” Morris said. “I’m not really believing it yet. Once we get in there and get started, it will really hit me. But for now, it’s still kind of a crazy dream that I think I’m having.”

(Job Spotlight with Trevor Morris, chef and owner of Trevioli Artisan Pasta Company)

Choudhury, who also owns the Wild Wing Cafe at Columbus Park Crossing and is involved with other businesses in the area, said he had approached Morris more than a year ago about a partnership. Choudhury, whose office is in the same storage unit complex as Trevioli, where he dines occasionally.

“I’m excited for him, and he’s a good guy to be partners with,” Choudhury said. “It’s locally owned and operated, so that will be really good for people to come down there and support it.”

Choudhury had originally been talking with Atlanta-area restaurant owners who had expressed a desire to open a French bistro-style eatery in the same location. But he said some issues popped up, including their plans to create a VIP-only area in the restaurant.

“The exterior is done and they’re trying to do the interior right now. So I’m hoping by the end of December we should be handing it over to them,” Choudhury said of the building that will be anchored by Trevioli Italian Kitchen. Other tenants, which should be operating within a few weeks, are Valley Rescue Mission and Neighborhood Cleaners.

If everything goes smoothly, longer-term plans, the partners said, could include opening additional restaurants in Phenix City and also Auburn-Opelika, Ala., area, with the Tiger Town development a possibility.

“We have some plans to grow together and try to expand Trevioli,” Choudhury said.

Morris, who has poured his heart and energy into the Tower Road Trevioli, said it wasn’t a simple decision for him to enter a partnership. His fear was that he would give up too much control of the restaurant and its unique concept to someone else. But Choudhury, who he has come to know and like, put him at ease.

“He’s given me so much power to pretty much make this thing what I want it to be. It’s almost like he’s an angel investor, just letting me do my thing, and that’s what I was partially afraid of with partnering with people,” Morris said of Choudhury. “Trevioli is currently just 100 percent of what I did. ... I built all this stuff myself, and I painted all the walls, and did all of the artwork, and it’s me ... and my wife. I think he realizes that and he’s given me a lot of leeway, in let’s recreate what you have but on a larger scale.”

Making a move to another location hasn’t always been so clear cut, however. Morris had considered entering a venture with the owners of Nonic, a gastro-pub in downtown Columbus, but then opened a second location in Harris County, Trevioli at the Backwaters, which didn’t gain a following and was closed fairly quickly.

“I learned a valuable lesson and it took me about six months to shut it down,” he said. “So I’ve been feeling pretty down and out,” Morris said, “but at the same time the Columbus location has been busting at the seams. We don’t have the seating capacity for the people who want to come.”

TripAdvisor users currently rank Trevioli’s Artisan Pasta Company — which Morris likes to keep at 38 or so seats comfortably for guests — at No. 12 in the city, with customers being a mix of local residents and out-of-towners. A frequent comment is that it is a hidden gem.

“This restaurant is a little piece of NY in Georgia,” a customer visiting from Suffern, N.Y., said recently on the online site. “I didn't expect to find awesome homemade pasta in Georgia but we did. The restaurant is tiny but quaint and the service is great — I had the most delicious ricotta gnocchi — it was light and topped with a light red sauce and greens. My husband had homemade ravioli — equally delicious! When we come back to Columbus for my son’s next Army graduation we will make sure we visit Trevioli!”

Morris said he’s excited about the potential for the new Trevioli Italian Kitchen, with plans to use many of the dishes he now has on his current menu, along with other items that his new space and equipment will allow him to do, including steak.

“I have not been able to sauté or fry or anything in this restaurant except bake up to this point,” he said. “We haven’t been able to afford having a custom hood system installed into the restaurant. ... And who wants to do that with a storage unit anyway? So I’m really excited about being able to have all of these amenities back there. As a cook, I’m pumped because it just opens up this whole world of things that you can do that I currently can’t do.”

Morris said he currently has four longtime employees on staff who he can trust to get things done. With the new restaurant, he will be looking to add servers and a couple of bartenders. But he also hopes to have four solid cooks or chefs in the back preparing the food that will be served at the tables.

“Right now, when you come into the restaurant, I cook all of your food and put the food on your plate,” he said. “I have a general manager and he does a lot of the stuff and kind of backs me up. But if I’ve got 180 seats I can’t do it all myself. So I’ve got to find some people that are trainable and willing to learn and be humble, which is very difficult to find in our world.”

While he continues to digest his important decision to give up the restaurant location he started from scratch on Tower Road, Morris said he also hopes to learn more about the operation of an eatery on a much larger scale. Choudhury will help him with that, he said.

“Sanjay is more of the business end and he knows where strategically to put us, and I’m more of the food guy. So I think that it will be a great partnership in relation to that,” he said, mentioning the camaraderie of his current employees. “I didn’t get into this to get rich, a money thing for me. I just enjoy cooking. And now as a businessman, I really enjoy supporting my staff members, and watching their lives grow.”