Costella’s, an Italian restaurant and market, is opening in South Hill
When Costella’s opens in South Hill, it’ll provide a little something for everyone: an Italian restaurant, deli counter, market and wine bar. All in one location.
Mike Rubel is the building owner and also the creator of Costella’s.
Expect a summer opening for the restaurant, but what that looks like and when will be determined by the permitting timeline and Pierce County’s movement through the Covid-19 reopening phases.
BUILDING OWNER TO RESTAURANT OWNER
Rubel also recruited the owners of The Hub to open a South Hill location of the brewery and restaurant company back in 2016 at the building he owns at 214 39th Ave. SW.
The Hub opened three years ago, but unfortunately didn’t make it.
THE NAMESAKE: RENO COSTELLA
While the Hub South Hill’s menu replicated the efforts of many nearby South Hill restaurants, Costella’s is a concept missing from the entire region, not just South Hill.
The restaurant-store-deli-wine bar is named after Rubel’s godfather, Reno Costella. “He was the king of artichokes,” said Rubel. “He was a very unassuming guy, but he had such a carriage about him. I admired the hell of how he carried himself.”
He died in 2002. Costella’s family was from Northern Italy, in the same Italian region where Rubel’s mother’s family is from. Like Rubel’s mother, Reno Costella also grew up in California.
“He started the brand of artichoke hearts called Cara Mia,” explained Rubel. The artichokes were grown around Castroville (the Santa Cruz area) near where Rubel grew up and also a region that’s home to an abundance of artichoke farms.
The brand was named after Reno Costella’s mother, who always found a use for the tiny chokes.
“His mother would go to the packing shed. She’d pick up the small chokes nobody wanted. Usually, they’d feed them to the hogs and farmers would pick them up.”
Those tiny chokes became a regular addition to the Costella dinner table.
“She’d cook them down, cut them up and pickle them, and put them up as pickles, just as you do for olives. And so Reno and his wife would go there every Sunday for dinner. It was always a typical Italian meal. You have to have salami and black olives and she would serve these artichoke hearts,” said Rubel.
And now those Cara Mia artichoke hearts will be offered in the antipasti selection at Costella’s.
In the dining room, a photo of Rubel’s mother will hang. She’s 105 and lives in Seattle now. She taught Rubel his appreciation for high-quality ingredients. At their California cattle ranch, he grew up learning to garden from his mother, who grew her own tomatoes and peppers.
“It was such a fertile place to grow. You’d spit a watermelon seed on it and you’d have a plant in three days. As a kid, I played in the garden.”
He remembers his mother preserving the bounty that would last through winter. “My mother pressure cooked and canned the tomatoes and bell peppers together, all in mason jars. We had them all stacked in the garage. So in the winter time, we ate off the land.”
When diners walk into Costella’s, they’ll also see shelves lined with canned tomatoes and a variety of Italian groceries. Rubel wants Costella’s to be a destination for specialty Italian groceries.
If that sounds a little like Fircrest’s former Viafore’s, which closed in April, that’s no coincidence. Rubel said he spent a few hours recently talking with owner Dave Viafore about how to assemble a combination deli and grocery store and said his advice has been invaluable in developing the idea for Costella’s.
“The market, when you walk into the restaurant, will be the upper area,” explained Rubel. That’s the long, narrow section of seating that was beyond the front door and host station at The Hub.
“We took out all the booths. We’re going to put in the market there. We’ll have canned tomatoes, pasta, all Italian food, with olives and mixes, olive oil, dried pastas and all the stuff you’d find at a market.”
Alongside that area will be cases holding housemade pasta sauces, pastas and heat-at-home pasta meals ready for takeout and easy to assemble at home.
“We’ll have homemade gnocchi, cannelloni, lasagna. The cases will have all our sauces, the bolognese, pesto, marinara, plus meatballs,” said Rubel.
DELI COUNTER AND WINE SELECTION
Near the pasta and sauce case will be a deli case. “We’ll have sausages, salami, cheeses and grated parmesan and so forth,” he said.
Bottled wine will be for sale, as well.
There will be a communal table nearby for snacking, but the bar and dining room will also provide plenty of seating for dine-in service.
TAKE-OUT IS A BIG PART OF THE BUSINESS
In addition to dine-in service, a big portion of the business, Rubel said, will be take-out. They’ll offer takeout prepared foods from the fresh case that can be heated and assembled at home, but Costella’s also will do take-out meals that are cooked in Costella’s kitchen and ready to eat immediately.
Rubel said that even before Covid-19 dining restrictions built a big market for take-out foods, he already was looking into a take-out meal program because of how diners are changing their eating habits and shifting more to take-away.
“I think take-out is going to be strong and will be strong for quite some time. People like to pick up the food and go home and eat it. Instead of waiting for the service at the restaurant, it’s easy for a wife or husband coming home from work to order ahead and we can have it ready for pickup,” said Rubel.
They’re already working on the online ordering system.
“It makes it so easy for the customer,” he said.
FAMILY FRIENDLY DINING EXPERIENCE
For those craving a wine-and-dine experience, Costella’s will offer table service and a menu with fresh pasta, Italian classics and pizza cooked in the Woodstone brand oven that was a foundation for the menu at the Hub when it operated in the space.
“The concept makes a lot of sense because it’s a people concept,” said Rubel. “it’s a ‘come here and enjoy, come here and relax’ place. We’ll serve great food at mid-prices. Nothing expensive. Just good food served well.” He expects families will make up a big portion of the restaurant’s diners.
The bar area of the Hub will be reworked into a cozier space, said Ruble. As for the bar menu, Costella’s will offer a wine-by-the-glass and bottle selection.
In the lower main dining room, they’ve ripped out booths to accommodate tables that seat two to four. Those tables can be reconfigured for large groups (when large-group dining is allowed again).
CHEF KENO’S MENU
Chef Joaquin “Keno” Buttner has plans for fresh pasta and a broad lineup of housemade sauces that include bolognese, bechamel, alla vodka, marinara, pesto and a pomodoro sauce inspired by his time in the kitchen, many years ago, at the old Cucina Cucina.
His childhood spent in Spain, where his mother was stationed in the Navy, also influences his palate.
Buttner previously worked in different chef roles at Le Sel, Lobster Shop at Dash Point, Knapp’s and dozens of other local kitchens.
He’s worked in restaurants since he was 14. He got his culinary degree – from Oregon Culinary Institute – in 2010, after he went back to school following years spent in local kitchens.
His fresh pasta program will have a “rotating variety of ravioli. We’re going to be doing our own fettuccine and pappardelle, as well as our own gnocchi. We’ll do different flavors of gnocchi. We’ll have extruded pastas, but we won’t be making in house,” he said.
He said to expect pizzas with a much different crust than that of the Hub, but he’s looking forward to experimenting with the pizza oven the Hub left behind.
And what about Rubel’s beloved artichokes? Buttner said those will show up all over the menu in sauces and appetizers.
He described a menu of classic Italian dishes, such as cannelloni, spaghetti with housemade meatballs and lasagna cooked “old school Italian flag style.”
That means a trio of red, white and green sauces, which Buttner said would include the house red sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes, bechamel and a twist on a green sauce he’s working on now. “The green will be a fresh herb mix, or I’m going to do a chive oil. I might do a chive-gremolata mashup,” he said.
He said he won’t stray far from classic Italian food, but to expect a few playful touches here and there. He emphasized that they’ll be producing as much as they can in house.
He described the style of food at Costella’s as upscale in foundation, but the style of service will be more casual, less fussy and “no pretension at all” about the restaurant.
Where: 214 39th Ave SW, Puyallup (near South Hill Hall in the old Hub location)
Opening: This summer