Nick and Sandra Arnerich
Renata is a wood-fired Italian restaurant located in Portland’s Central Eastside district. When the pandemic forced them to close their doors, they found a way to shift gears and build a new successful venture. We congratulate them on their resourcefulness and success in a very challenging time. Thank you to Sandra who kindly filled us in on the details, provided photos of Renata’s delicious pizzas, and shared an unforgettable story.
Tell us about launching your frozen pizza business and how it’s been going?
The frozen pizza business started very organically. When our governor ordered all restaurants to close for service we had a cow from our friend and partner Pat ‘n Tam’s; this is a tiny farm, owned by a family that depends on selling their beef to keep the lights on. We’d committed to purchasing a cow and we decided we needed to take it, pay Pat and figure out what to do with it. This forced us to get a pantry program going right away. Eventually this program developed into sauces, pastas, desserts and frozen pizzas. We experienced great success with the frozen pizzas being a consistent best seller. It was then when we decided to take the pizzas to New Seasons and see if they’d consider buying pizzas from us. They loved our product and placed an order of 3000 pizzas. At that point, we had to figure out how to become a production facility, packaging and distribution, marketing… this was all new for us but with our great team in place we were able to establish our account with NSM and work towards ODA license to get to other stores.
Do you expect to continue the frozen line after dining out is safe again?
Our frozen pizza business has been steadily growing since we started in June. We project that this will continue, all our energy and focus is dedicated to this goal. We’re not sure when restaurants can reopen and I anticipate that it will be a long while before business comes back to any sort of normal.
Which Renata pizza or dish are you most proud of and which one is your best seller?
This is a hard one, I’m proud of all we do. We put all of our energy, love and intention to our products, our brand and our employees so choosing one is hard. Our best selling pizza has always been Margherita; it’s a classic, it is delicious and when you have it at home you can add other things to make it different. It’s a very flexible pizza.
Do you have a favorite story or particularly memorable event that took place at Renata?
So many moments come to mind, I mostly think of a packed dining room and my team running around and going through the rush and the adrenaline of service.
There is one particular story that seems stronger… When we moved here from San Francisco to open Renata, Nick’s coworker and best friend Chris Wright was also ready for a change and excited by this new project so he and his girlfriend moved to Portland.
It took over a year to get the restaurant built and opened and Chris was there in every step of the way. Six months after opening Chris started to feel sick and after weeks of misdiagnoses he went to the ER where they realized that he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer. At this point Chris was so weak that treatment was not an option. Unwilling to accept his reality we started looking into other treatments and ways to support him financially.
Chris was our wine director and for months he and the chef had been talking about a special dinner where the entire menu was cooked on open fire or had some sort of ash/fire component to it. Chris’ vision was to pair the menu with Volcanic soil wines, specifically wines from Mount Etna in Sicily. We decided to make this dinner in his honor and at the same time raise money to help him get to San Francisco where he wanted to spend his last days. It was merely six weeks after he was diagnosed when we hosted “chuck it on the coals” dinner at Renata. That evening the restaurant was packed with people who loved him, the menu was beautiful, the night was warm, and we experienced the most spectacular sunset. We cried and laughed as we celebrated our friend. It was busy, we ran out of food but the energy was so strong, so special, so alive. When we finally got to the end of service and with a room still full of people we learned that Chris had passed just a few minutes after we opened our doors. Looking back, I still feel his presence throughout that evening, it was exactly what he had envisioned.
What do you most want people to know about your business?
That we care a bunch for what we do, we always want to provide the best possible product, we’re committed to paying fair wages and benefits to our employees and we’re actively involved in our community, specifically underserved children.