by Elizabeth Coady
The idea of opening his own restaurant has been simmering in Jim Cerenzia’s mind for years. He had long dreamed of a sandwich shop where he could serve up handmade sandwiches and salads to satisfied customers. As a boy he learned to cook inside his Italian grandmother’s tavern and kitchen, then honed his own techniques while working as a chef at The Links Bar & Grill in Bloomsburg, Pa.
Last Thursday, he and his partner of six years, Karen Taylor, turned that dream into delicious reality when Louie’s Little Hut held its grand opening at 8419 Germantown Ave
“I’ve been waiting years for this – it’s a passion,” said a beaming Cerenzia, 38, inside the surf-themed sandwich shop adorned with surfboard signs and photos the couple took while vacationing in Hawaii.
Tucked in the rear of the Gertrude Woodward Community Centre, the brightly lit eatery fills the space occupied by the former Ration Foods, which shut down shortly after opening due to a family illness. Out front, a square, hand-painted green sign beckons passersby to the rear of the building. The property was essentially turnkey ready for a new restaurant to take its place. And when Jim and Karen saw the space with its expansive garden backyard and kitchen, it struck an immediate chord.
“We love it,” said Karen, 36, a chemist by day who says the couple looked for years for the right spot to launch. “As soon as we came here we said, ‘This is it.’”
Coming up with the sandwich shop’s menu required a bit of concocting. The six-dozen-plus sandwiches each has its own name, many reflecting the names of prominent Philadelphians as well as a few figures from the couple’s own lives. There’s the “Billy Penn,” (slow-cooked roast beef with beer cheese, roasted red pepper and caramelized onions), the “Rocky Balboa,” (meatballs, marinara, mozzarella and parmesan cheese), the “Patti LaBell,” (bacon, egg, avocado and cream cheese on two waffles). There’s also the “George Woodward,”(grilled barbecued chicken, bacon, cheddar, jalapenos and friend onion straws) named after Chestnut Hill’s eponymous historic real estate developer.
The shop itself is named after “Louie,” one of the couple’s two German Shorthaired Pointers who was with them when they first visited the spot and fell in love with it. The couple are admitted dog lovers and are even donating 10 percent of the profits from the sale of their “Island Dogs” hot dogs to local chapters of the SPCA.
The island theme was inspired by the space’s backyard, where they plan to hold luaus next summer. But the cooking was inspired by Cerenzia’s grandmother who operated with her husband The Yesteryear Tavern in Prospect Park in the 1980s.
“She took the time to teach me,” he recalled fondly.
He said the endeavor is a little bit nerve-wracking “but mostly I’ve been waiting for this for a very long time. It should have happened before. I’m ready.”
The newest business on the Avenue will serve breakfast and lunch Wednesdays through Sundays from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. You can find the restaurant on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Louies-Little-Hut-1261533060635737/.