Tuesday, July 28, 2020
Closing Day at Gaia’s Italian Café
Text and photos by Stacie Joy
People, including me, are lined up and prepared to wait in the 95-degree heat on Sunday for a chance at scoring a last takeout meal at Gaia’s Italian Café.
Located for more than nine years at 251 E. Houston St. between Norfolk and Suffolk, Gaia Bagnasacco's eponymous restaurant is closing for many reasons, none of which its owner cares to discuss.
COVID-19 has not made anything easy on small businesses — ditto for the ever-fluctuating rules and regulations from the city. But there are also literal signs of a dispute with the upstairs neighbor (featuring "Vote Trump" messages), and indications that the disagreement hasn’t been helpful.
The restaurant posted this message on social media: "please be aware that the Gaia Italian Cafe due to end of the lease, eviction and to two year of harassment will close, our last day of operation is on July 26th" leaving open the possibility it will reopen elsewhere.
When pressed, Gaia would only say that she is keeping her options open, including looking for a possible take-out/to-go-only spot.
Gaia, famed for her Milanese cooking and her at-times fiery temper (she’s gotten into some scuffles online with reviewers on Yelp and Facebook) as well as in person. On this Sunday, people are lined up to, as one patron jokes, "Have her yell at me one last time before feeding me the most delicious home-cooked meal ever."
Some people have come bearing gifts, including rubber duckies, which Gaia collects.
Fellow restaurateurs, such as Yudai Kanayama from Izakaya, have come to show support.
Despite the heat, humidity and line — no one seems to be complaining.
After a long wait, I nab one of the last plates of house-favorite spinach and ricotta gnocchi in tomato sauce and a rare smile from Gaia. Worth it.
Gaia recommends keeping an eye on her website and social media presence for any potential future updates.