Born in Sicily, David Valenza’s grandparents came to Central Pennsylvania to start a new life. They ended up in a “Little Italy” of sorts in the East End of Clearfield. You would never know it, but it was this small Appalachian Mountain town where David’s mother Nonni was born. With her strong Italian accent, you could easily believe she was simply in the states for vacation. But surrounded by her parents, and others who once called Italy home, she soaked up the character and charm as though she grew up in Italy itself.
Lucky for us, she eventually moved a couple hours west and now calls Grove City home. With her daughter, son and grandkids, the family started Nonni’s Corner Trattoria on the corner of College and Broad. Today, the restaurant represents a family’s heritage in the form of brick and mortar… and pasta.
Talking to David during the quiet after the lunch-hour rush, he clearly felt it a privilege to speak of his family’s history, which is displayed on the walls throughout the restaurant. He still keeps in touch with family on the Northern Coast of Sicily, in a place barely on the map, called Sangeorgio. Flash forward a couple generations, the family made their way to Grove City after David’s sister started working at the Intermediate Unit. Eventually Nonni moved to town, and the two convinced David that it was time to share their family’s culinary heritage, and that Grove City was the place to make it happen.
For anyone who has had dinner at Nonni’s, one thing is clear, it’s authentic. The family’s roots can be seen in everything from the red sauce, to the entertainment. From a church pew at the front door, to a massive family heirloom cabinet, there are few places that feel so genuine. On a weekend night, dinner is often accompanied by an accordion player, soft jazz, or vocalists from the Dana School of Music. Some nights, you may even see Nonni herself perform a number. Piece by piece, everything comes together to create a uniquely European experience. David spoke quite a bit about European dining. While Americans often ask for their checks as soon as their meals come, Europeans see the dining experience as just that, an experience. Entire evenings in Venice can be spent at a cafe table listening to live music, conversing and more importantly, relaxing. While Grove City may never be “European” per say, this tiny corner restaurant does an impressive job of bringing the best of the cafe culture to Broad Street, and it seems to be catching on. Just drive through Olde Town after dark and Nonni’s is often one of the few places showing signs of life. David attributes much of the restaurant’s inspiration to his time spent in Italy, enjoying long multi-course meals, finished off with dessert and a cup of espresso. He compared it to the days of Dean Martin, when classy dining and entertainment was the norm.
Beyond cuisine, the family has embraced the local art scene. David’s brother-in-law, Andrew Hazelton, has paintings throughout the dining area, and a beautiful mural on the building’s exterior. Statues from local sculptor Sarah Hempel Irani, along with pieces from other local artists, often fill the space. Seeing the growth and success of the arts in Olde Town, the family wanted to be part of it, and help nurture it. It’s clear that they see Olde Town as their home, and they’re making great efforts to not just bring new patrons to Nonni’s but to all of downtown. Advertising and shout outs in Pittsburgh Magazine have helped bring in Pittsburghers who may never have otherwise come to Olde Town. They’re no stopping there. An “obsession” of David’s is to start convincing more of the 6.5 million shoppers a year at Grove City Premium Outlets to make their way into town. He’s worked with the area hotels and staff to make sure visitors know about Olde Town, and hopes to someday have bus tours that include both the outlets and downtown shopping district.
Long term, David looks to keep improving on the restaurant’s cafe culture. Someday customers will enjoy french doors throughout that would make it a true indoor/outdoor experience during the summer months. Nonni’s also continues to expand their catering. Wedding, corporate and personal events for a small group or hundreds has kept the family busy as of late.
Now several years in, Nonni’s Corner Trattoria has made a name for itself. Good food, great atmosphere, and amazing people make it an authentic experience that you shouldn’t pass up.
*for information on catering and more, go to www.nonniscorner.com
with David Valenza
Favorite meal at Nonni’s Corner Trattoria? Chicken Cacciatore.
Favorite meal that Nonni makes that isn’t on her menu? Leg of Lamb (sometimes on the menu). Clam sauce is my birthday dinner every year.
What is one thing that Grove City doesn’t have that you wish it did? Honestly, at my age I feel like it has everything I need. Bowling for entertainment, great coffee house, the movie theater and YMCA. Being content with what we have makes it that much more exciting when something new comes in.
If we were going on a vacation to Italy, where would you recommend? You can’t ignore Rome. There’s so much history and culture that you should at least spend 48 hours there. Then head to Sicily. It’s simple, relaxing, colorful, and I’ve never had a bad meal there. If you ever get a chance, go at Christmas time. The temps may be in the 40’s but the traditions and ceremonies are incredible.