When Matthew Phelan was working his first job as a cook at the since-closed Luce Enoteca on Sawmill Parkway, his dream was to open a restaurant in downtown Columbus.
Now, not quite a decade later, Phelan's first solo venture -- an Italian restaurant -- has landed in Powell instead.
"Powell has got so much going on right now. It's super-exciting," Phelan said of the anticipated September opening of Novella Osteria.
Phelan, raised in Dublin and trained at the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York, spent a few years working at restaurants in New York City before returning to central Ohio last year to help open Z Cucina in Dublin.
"I was fortunate to work for a lot of great people while I was in New York City, but the dream was always to go out and get experience and to come back," Phelan said.
He's been pursuing his own place for the past seven or eight months, he said, and "stumbled on" the opportunity at 170 W. Olentangy St., a 3,600-square-foot space near Koble Grill and Pinot's Palette.
Phelan said he plans a small menu of rustic Italian food, much of it made on-site. The menu will feature a handful of appetizers, six or seven pasta dishes, select entrees and a couple of desserts, he said.
"It's all about technique. I want to offer quality instead of quantity," he said. "I'm creating traditional dishes, maybe highlighting a daily pasta choice, with everything prepared as simply as possible."
Jamie George, executive chef at Z Cucina, said the first time he met Phelan, it was obvious he was ready for his own restaurant.
"He has an impressive resume, but it takes more than that," George said. "He's even-keeled, he learned well and executes well and he's creative."
Phelan acknowledged the difficulty of opening a new business during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. There have been delays in the construction process, and the opening has been pushed back a few months already.
"I went into the process with open eyes," he said.
Protective measures such as limited capacity and temporary plexiglass shields are being worked through, Phelan said.
He said he's also mulling a pasta-to-go kit, "to bring the restaurant to you, so to speak."
Shannon Hubbs, owner of Pinot's Palette in the same plaza, said she hopes additional foot traffic of a restaurant will benefit her business, as well.
Phelan said his restaurant's name was chosen with care; a novella is a short story, and an osteria is a neighborhood restaurant.
"It's my story, but it's also a place with genuine hospitality where people are going to want to gather," he said.