New generation rises to take over pizza shop
MIDDLEBURY — For many locals the name Ramunto’s comes to mind when they are looking for a tasty slice of pizza. Soon they’ll have to change their thinking, though, as the Middlebury business transitions to a new name.
The MacIntyre Lane take-out restaurant is transitioning to the name “Nino’s,” according to owner David Nienow, who guarantees that all of the things that make the place successful will continue.
“Things will continue on just like they have been,” he said, “only the name is changing.”
Nienow entered a franchise with Vermont restaurateur Cliff Ramunto to open a business under the name “Ramunto’s” in Middlebury in 2004. As the 10-year franchise agreement expires this year, Nienow, 60, is simply ready to make a few changes.
The name change itself isn’t going to be a huge deal, he said. They are changing it from Ramunto’s to Nino’s because Nienow used to own a specialty foods market called Nino’s. Nienow enjoyed the foods market but wanted a place that was really known for one really good food and he found that in pizza. Also significant, the name is pronounced the same way as the family’s last name, just spelled differently.
“The name more accurately reflects who we are,” said Nienow.
The name isn’t the only thing changing though. David’s son, Mike Nienow and Mike’s wife Jessie, both 29, will be stepping up and taking more responsibility within the business.
Mike Nienow graduated from Paul Smith’s College with a four-year degree in Culinary Arts and Hotel and Restaurant Management and has been working with his father for about 15 years. Two pieces of advice that Mike has carried with him are to not try to sell what you make but to make what you sell, and also to keep it simple.
“This is us,” he said, speaking of the food that simply defines his family’s restaurant.
Mike has been surrounded by the food industry since he was young, and he has fond memories of the Nienow clan in the kitchen for family gatherings.
“It was all I knew. There was always a good energy and happiness reached through food. When people make you food, you just feel happy,” Mike said.
Ajah Tier, an Endicott College freshman and a 2013 graduate of Middlebury Union High School, has been working at Ramunto’s since 2012 and has faith in Mike.
“I think he has great ideas to make it more profitable,” Tier said.
Although Mike and Jessie Nienow will be the new faces of the company, David Nienow will still be around.
“Pizza is too fun a business to quit,” Nienow said.
And listening to David talk about pizza, you know he’s serious about his passion for the pie.
“Take this pizza, for instance,” he said, pointing at a pizza behind the display case. “The colors are all great, the vegetables placed well, the taste is there, it’s all ‘chef-prepared.’ That’s what we strive for.”
David Nienow isn’t just in it for the pizza, though. He likes that the business gets the opportunity to interact with the local sports teams, churches and community members. Ramunto’s/Nino’s sources some of its ingredients locally from Eagle’s Flight Farm in Orwell, Golden Russet Farm in Shoreham, and Blue Ledge Farm in Leicester.
“It’s nice to know people are happy when they leave,” said Tier.
Even though the business was in a franchise with Ramunto, the Nienows were allowed to still do their own thing and really make the restaurant theirs.
“There’s no pent up need to try new stuff now that the franchise is over since we’ve been doing it for forever,” David said.
Business is doing well, too, according to Mike. Recently, he said, they were remembering back when a busy day used to be a certain level of sales and how much that’s changed over the years. Although the growth is steady, it is natural too and to be expected, Mike said. During the summer when all of the employees are home from college, the restaurant has about 20 people on staff. Mainly their workers are local high school and college students.
“They have to care — that’s what makes pizza good — and be passionate. They have to want to serve customers and, as you can see,” said Mike, gesturing to the open kitchen visible behind the counter, “there’s no hiding so they have to be comfortable with the interaction between people and food.”
A popular favorite deal in the town includes the “lunch special” that allows for customers to get two slices of pizza and a drink for $6. The business also creates a “pizza of the month.” Mike said that when creating the pizza flavors, they tend to gravitate toward seasonal, local ingredients.
“But actually it often comes down to what we’re craving,” he said.
In the summer they may include ingredients like bratwurst, whereas in the winter they may want to do something creamier.
The name change is an ongoing thing and David Nienow thinks that some people will call it Ramunto’s and some will call it Nino’s.
“The name doesn’t really matter. Call us whatever, just call!” he said.
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