Adrian Arcuri’s grandfather emigrated from Naples, Italy, to Lower Manhattan in 1900, bringing with him his prized family recipe for Neapolitan-style pizza.
That recipe eventually served as the foundation for Ciao Baby, Arcuri’s Neapolitan pizzeria in Collierville, and in the next few weeks, that same recipe will be coming to Crosstown Concourse as Arcuri opens his second restaurant, Elemento Neapolitan Pizza, with his business partner Justin Dorrah.
“When my grandfather came over, he brought his skills with him,” Arcuri says. “You learn everything from your family in Italy. Those skills are passed on from generation to generation. He worked as a fishmonger in Lower Manhattan through the Great Depression, and he had 13 children. He taught each kid a skill, and he put each one in business.”
Arcuri says his family was taught how to make cheese and sopressata (Italian salami), as well as dough and pizza. And those family members passed the art along to a young Arcuri. His family was also responsible for Arcuri landing in Memphis seven years ago.
Adrian eventually moved to Memphis to work as a foreman for his uncle’s construction company, working on flood management at Mud Island during the Great Memphis Flood of 2011. That’s when he realized Memphis was lacking a true Neapolitan pizzeria and felt a calling to bring his cuisine to the Bluff City. He and his wife Ashley opened Ciao Baby, and it’s since gained a loyal following.
When his second restaurant, Elemento, opens in Crosstown Concourse, the fast-casual eatery will feature authentic Neapolitan pizza made in the tradition of the Old World. The flour is imported from Italy, as are the tomatoes.
“The tomatoes come from the base of Mt. Vesuvius, the best tomatoes in the world. We don’t make tomato sauce in Italy. We just crush down San Marzano tomatoes and add a little salt to enhance the flavor, maybe some basil. That’s how we make pizza. It’s not junk food, Americanized pizza.”
Arcuri will create fresh mozzarella daily, as well as hand-crafted salad dressings and made-in-house cannolis.
Dorrah, who met Adrian when he was running the third-party food delivery business Chef Shuttle, saw something unique with what Arcuri was doing at Ciao Baby.
“He had this little mom-and-pop shop, and he was doing something so different with his authentic Neapolitan pizza,” says Dorrah, who points out that true Neapolitan pizza isn’t available anywhere in Memphis outside of Ciao Baby. “I saw the potential of the product and wanted to design a restaurant around that to really showcase the product.”
And thus, Elemento was born. Dorrah is not involved in Ciao Baby, but he is partnering with Arcuri on Elemento. And they’re making sure everything in their new venture is based on a foundation of Old World tradition.
“In Italy, everything to do with Neapolitan pizza is so important that they certify different oven makers,” Dorrah says. “Ours are Acunto Mario. The Acunto family has been making pizza since the 19th century. The ovens are hand-built, brick and Volcanic ash, and the dimensions of the oven are what allows us to make Neapolitan pizza the proper way in 90 seconds or less.”
Diners will be able to watch dough preparation through a glass wall, and they can customize toppings upon ordering. The build-your-own model is typical of a fast-casual restaurant, but Dorrah says the atmosphere will be “nice enough for a date night or business lunch but quick and casual enough for a fast lunch.”
“A lot of what you’ll find at Ciao Baby will be on our menu, as well as some items that are off-menu, secret items there,” Dorrah says. “We’ll have pizza, salad, and antipasto.”
Elemento will have a full bar and menu of Italian-inspired cocktails, like negroni or limoncello, as well as wines by the bottle. Several wines and draft beers will also be offered on tap.
At the end of the day, Dorrah says Elemento is about simplicity: “Neapolitan pizza is very simple pizza. It’s not loaded down with everything. When you have something simple, every element needs to be great.”