Being selected as one of the top restaurants in Tampa Bay by a newspaper food critic is a bonus. And, this has happened more than once.
Most recently, Laura Reiley of the Tampa Bay Times named Pia’s in her 2018 top 50 list for Tampa Bay. Reiley has been the food critic at the paper for about 10 years and Pia’s was the first local restaurant she reviewed in April 2007.
“My philosophy is when training new staff, which doesn’t happen very often because nobody leaves, is that in the moment when a diner steps through the door that person is my best friend,” she said. “The hostess, the bartender and the servers treat everyone as if each person is Pia’s best friend. From the hundreds if not thousands of restaurants in the area, when people choose to come here it is an honor. We still love and have passion for what we do after 13 years. It’s the whole package.”
With an established staff, Pia now mostly concentrates on getting Facebook information published, building and printing menus, hiring when needed, and greeting guests in the dining room.
“I have a great staff and we don’t use titles. It’s 100 percent teamwork,” said Pia. “Anything I know, they know. We don’t have a big turnover. My chefs have been with me for a while. Jonathan Summers has been with me for eight years. He is like my mini-me.
“Three of my chefs are trained in culinary school. With me that’s four. That’s a big deal.”
The regular menu is offered to each diner in a metal fold-open case that has a striking exterior patina.
“Every two weeks, there is also a completely new specials menu that offers two or three different options for soups, salads, appetizers, entrees and desserts,” said Pia. “We started doing this two years ago. It allows us to play with food trends without committing to them.”
Details also flow through the building’s multiple interior and exterior seating options with a variety of Tuscan-themed decorations that are reflective of Pia’s homeland – Italy. In addition to owning the restaurant, Pia, her husband Tom, and their four children also make their home in Gulfport.
“I grew up in a little town,” she said. “When you get to know the people and the issues, you can’t help but care because you live in the community. I feel blessed that we chose Gulfport because it’s a wonderful place with wonderful people. When we moved here, I immediately felt at home. I’m not just a business owner, I’ve also raised my four children here. They all work at the restaurant.”
One of the ways Pia gives back to Gulfport is by being the lead organizer for the annual Chefs Table charity fine-dining event that is held down the middle of Beach Boulevard. Started in 2016, the event had to increase seating capacity by 50 percent for 2017. In both years, multiple Gulfport-based restaurants served sold-out crowds. In 2016, the event raised $8,569.75 for the Community Action Stops Abuse (CASA) program in Pinellas County and in 2017, $17,538.50 was given to Gulfport Elementary school to help them fund a new playground that is planned for completion in the spring of 2018.
“Once a year it brings the restaurants and our staffs together,” said Pia of Chefs Table. “We get to know each other. That’s a good thing.”