"Who? What? Where?"
Marc Del Pietro pretends not to understand me when I ask about the status of Luciano's Trattoria (172 Carondelet Plaza, Clayton; 314-863-9969), which has been closed since late January to repair the damage caused by a burst water pipe.
I can't blame him. We've been talking about another of his ventures, The Block (146 West Lockwood Avenue, Webster Groves; 314-918-9700), where is not merely open, but thriving.
"We're looking hard for a second location," he reveals. Meanwhile, the original location -- not yet a year old -- plans to begin serving lunch (a "scaled-down" version of the dinner menu) the week of April 16.
Del Pietro thinks a big reason for the Block's appeal (including a positive review from yours truly) is its "more minimalistic" approach, a focus on the food rather than frills like tablecloths and "ten different stem glasses."
"We're trying to minimize the overhead," he says. "We don't have to pass all those costs on to the consumer.
Eventually, our talk turns to Luciano's and the busted pipe. He sighs and then admits, "It's been a son of a gun."
Damage that Del Pietro and his team thought would require only a week or so to repair turned out to be far more extensive -- so extensive that a St. Louis Magazine report last month had the restaurant closing for good.
Del Pietro tells Gut Check he has yet to make a decision on the Luciano's future. Complicating that decision is the fact that the restaurant's original ten-year lease is due to expire at the end of May.
"We're in negotiations [to renew the lease] right now," he says. "I would love to stay here by all means. I love Clayton. I love the space. The rent is crazy."
He adds that while he understands that his landlord must consider the bottom line, he believes his restaurant is an amenity for the office building in which it's located.
"I don't have an answer," he says. "We're aggressively negotiating. I can't afford to pay the rent we've been paying."
The aforementioned St. Louis Magazine report also claimed that Del Pietro would close Kilkenny's Irish Pub (20 North Central Avenue, Clayton; 314-725-0161), possibly to make way for another location of Pickleman's Gourmet Cafe.
"Ever since we bought Kilkenny's twelve years ago, we've been selling it," he jokes -- though only partly. The Kilkenny's team has always considered offers to purchase or lease the spot, and he confirms that Pickleman's has approached them.
However, he cautions, "Nothing has been inked."