Pete and Laurie Toarmina bought Saline’s tallest downtown building in 2010, and over time they transformed each story into a new venture that nourished the community with food, music, and games. At street level, Mangiamo Italian Grill opened in February 2011. Two years later, they debuted a second-floor banquet space that hosted popular monthly “Acoustic Routes” concert series. And finally last fall, the couple topped it off by building two bocce ball courts on the top floor. But the Toarminas were closing their businesses at the end of February, almost six years to the day since the restaurant first opened.
It was not an easy decision, Pete Toarmina says in a phone interview. Toarmina has been diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disease that can affect various facial muscles, including those that control speech. Despite the diagnosis, neither he nor his wife was thinking of selling. But opportunity knocked.
“It was very spur of the moment; we never even listed. I was speaking with my accountant, who said he might know an investor. We were willing to listen,” says Toarmina. Other factors weighed in. Their only daughter, Lisa, and her young family moved to Pennsylvania two years ago for her husband’s job. “Now she’s pregnant with her fourth and due in April.”
Not having their daughter in town has been especially tough on Laurie. “She misses those grandchildren. Whenever a customer with a baby comes to the restaurant, Laurie grabs that baby and carries it around for a half hour so the parents can eat.” So when an offer to buy them out of the restaurant came along, he and Laurie took stock.
“The offer isn’t as much as I think it’s worth, but it covers what we invested in dollars. The labor–blood, sweat, and tears, as they say–not so much, and not the heart. But, it’s OK. For us, this decision was entirely about timing,” explains Toarmina.
The Toarminas’ work and social life are wrapped up in the business. “People keep coming up to Laurie and crying. It’s hard because things have been going so well. The bocce ball has been a huge success, with 128 people in the leagues playing four nights a week,” he says.
The Mangiamo space will become a second location of Chelsea’s Smokehouse 52 BBQ. Owner Phil Tolliver hopes to open by the end of May.
Acoustic Routes has already secured a new venue less than a mile down the road at Stony Lake Brewing Co. It’s a win-win-win agree all parties involved. Jerry and Heidi Tubbs “just celebrated our one-year anniversary since opening Stony Lake,” says Jerry. Acoustic Routes’ coordinator Jim Cain “is a customer and now a friend, and when he mentioned looking for a new venue for the concert series, we knew it would be a nice fit for us, Saline, and everybody.” The first show at Stony Lake will be on Saturday, March, 25, and features Miriam Pico of Traverse City (see Community Events, Performing Arts).
Pete says the same accountant who found a buyer for Mangiamo also found one for their ice cream stand–the accountant’s mother. “Laurie and I are very happy that she’ll keep it going as Mickey’s Dairy Twist,” says Pete.
That leaves only the bocce ball courts still needing a new sponsor.
At press time, we were unable to tour Saline’s new Emagine Theatre in the Commons at Sauk Trail, but word is that the grand opening is set for March 18.