Primo Italian Eatery brings Vesuvio's tradition to new location and name

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By: Marshall V. King
mking@flavor574.com

Jennifer Shephard/Flavor 574

There’s a new, yet familiar pizza place in downtown Elkhart.

Primo opened in December at 201 W. Marion St., Elkhart, offering dine-in and carry-out pizza from a downtown location.

It’s a newly renovated building with a business that goes back decades. Here’s the tale of how Primo Italian Eatery came about from Vesuvio’s Pizza.

Josh Royer operated Vesuvio’s Pizza in Parkmor Plaza from about 1995 or so until 2013.

If you go:
Primo Italian Eatery
201 W. Marion St., Elkhart
574-293-2777

No smoking, handicapped accessible, food available dine-in, delivery or carry-out

primoitalianeatery.com

The pizza shop was in the back of the plaza and business was suffering. The big employers that had been nearby, including Bayer Corp., were gone.

A customer offered a building for lease at the corner of Marion and Second streets downtown, and Royer saw his chance. “I just wanted to get out of that plaza,” he said.

Royer spent months remodeling the space, and then opened Primo Dec. 10, 2014.

That’s how he came downtown. How Vesuvio’s wound its way through Elkhart is a more complicated tale.

THE BACKSTORY

Dominic and Sarita Cataldo started Vesuvio’s Pizza in 1980 and operated it until 1986 or 1987. They sold to Adem Ismajli and Mike Antonelli, according to Sarita.

Antonelli had worked at Shakey’s. Royer, as a young man, worked there with him and went to work at Vesuvio’s after Antonelli purchased it.

Antonelli and Ismajli parted ways. Antonelli kept the Vesuvio’s in Parkmor, and Ismajli opened another Vesuvio’s along Cassopolis Street that later became JoJo’s Pizzeria. His wife got a Vesuvio’s location at Oakland and Lusher in Elkhart following a divorce, Royer said.

Royer purchased the Parkmor Vesuvio’s from Antonelli in 1995. With a partner, he also opened a Vesuvio’s in the Flagstix Golf Center along Old U.S. 20 on the southeast side of Elkhart. 

After the Vesuvio’s and golf center closed, an employee who had worked in the pizza shop opened Vesuvio Pizza at 1651 Toledo Road more than six years ago. Julie and Bryan Sinon bought that location three years ago and (finally) trademarked the name.

As Royer approached opening his own restaurant, he opted to use a new name.

“There was a lot of confusion when you had five stores with the same name,” he said.

THE FOOD

The challenge for Royer has been getting customers to realize he’s back. People are walking in saying, “I didn’t know you have pizzas.”

He does, and they’re good. The sauce changed a little — instead of doctoring a canned sauce, they’re making it with crushed tomatoes and spices. It’s a sweet, rich tomato sauce.

The menu is simple, with appetizers, salads and sandwiches as well as pizza. Calzones are selling well.

I’ve seen food from Primo walk by regularly because it’s reasonably priced and is only a few steps from the Elkhart Truth’s newsroom. Our journalists have been regular customers and many have become fans.

Anne Christnovich, the assistant managing editor of digital, adores the buffalo chicken pizza. It’s flavorful, but personally, I don’t really want ranch dressing on my pizza. In general, the pizza is hearty and the crust is good and thick. 

Dan Spalding, the assistant managing editor of print, has been known to get pizza by the slice, which is a lovely option for under $3.

There’s no fried food on the menu yet. Royer hopes to add those this summer. I predict our employees will purchase it often, too.

The salads are decent, though I’d love to see them a bit bigger. The item on the menu that needs explaining is “pizza chips.” They’re thin baked dough, sliced and served with a side of marinara. They’re simple and pretty good.

Lunch business is strong, and that can lead to a wait depending on the circumstances. This new restaurant is still working on timing and staffing. Royer said dinner business needs to grow.

Delivery downtown is free and $3 elsewhere in Elkhart, but online coupons can take that amount off.

Royer is is a veteran restaurateur. His past customers are finding him. Competition now includes the chains offering $5 pizzas. Times change. Names change.

But he’s back making pizza.

I’m hungry. Let’s eat.

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