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Markell gives kudos to the Town of Milford and Touch of Italy

January 16, 2017

The accomplishments of Milford’s Mayor Bryan Shupe, his colleagues in the city government and the owners of Touch of Italy were celebrated Jan. 10 by Delaware’s 73rd governor, Jack Markell. And it happened smack in the middle of the scaffold-filled construction site that will soon become Milford’s newest restaurant. On April 17, 2015, M&T Bank moved out of the vault-like building at the corner of Front and Walnut streets, where in 1790, businessman Abner Dill had constructed a tavern. Upon his passing, several other businesses moved into and out of the space, until Delaware’s 38th governor, Peter F. Causey, sold the building to Col. Henry Fiddeman. He added the third floor and founded the First National Bank of Milford. 

That soaring, art deco-inspired structure has been a financial institution ever since, playing host to Wilmington Trust and eventually M&T Bank. Meanwhile, the prudently aggressive Touch of Italy restaurant group, currently sporting four busy locations plus a bakery/commissary, was looking to extend its reach north of Lewes. 

Mayor Shupe went on a quest for entrepreneurial spirit, and one need not look much further (at least in Delaware) than Sam Calagione, head of the prosperous Dogfish Head brand. Calagione suggested that Bryan contact Bob Ciprietti, longtime builder/developer and founding partner of the Touch of Italy restaurant group. M&T eventually welcomed Ciprietti, his business partner Joe Curzi and Touch of Italy with open arms. 

Gov. Markell’s visit to the construction site was to congratulate all the parties involved, and to familiarize the invited guests with the Downtown Development Districts Grant Program. In fact, a portion of the monies raised for this massive project came from that very program, specifically designed to spur investment and redevelopment in the downtown districts of Delaware’s cities and towns. The DDD program is administered at the state level by the Delaware State Housing Authority.

The return on this particular investment is the revitalization of Milford’s downtown, along with the creation of jobs and the attraction of new businesses and residences. 

The podium was positioned directly in front of the massive vault that will become the dramatic entrance to the Touch of Italy bar.

Mayor Shupe welcomed everyone to what was obviously a construction site in progress, making a point to single out Ciprietti and Curzi, with whom he worked so closely for well over a year. Anas Ben Addi, director of the DSHA, was the next to speak and he wasted no time making his point: “The DDD program is doing exactly what we intended, attracting significant private investment to our downtowns.” 

Project sponsor and Touch of Italy co-owner Curzi was called to the podium. “This project is the first time we’ve worked with a program like this, and it has been a great experience. We’re thrilled to be expanding to Milford, putting this historic building back into active use in the heart of downtown, and expanding Touch of Italy in the process. Downtown, in unique settings like this, is where people want to be.” 

The DDD program was created by legislation proposed by Gov. Markell, and passed unanimously by the General Assembly in May 2014. So it was only right that Gov. Markell top off the event. After speaking for just a few minutes, he invited several recipients of the DDD grants to describe the benefits they were able to bring to their respective downtowns. In addition, state Rep.-elect Charles Postles, state representatives Harvey Kenton and Dave Wilson, and state Sen. Gary Simpson spoke about how DDD has benefitted their constituents.

Cameras flashed, radio and TV interviewers moved in, and the event ended with hot coffee and Touch of Italy’s cookies. 

In an earlier interview, builder-turned-restaurateur Ciprietti made his intentions very clear: “Every phase of our construction will be specifically calculated to preserve the one-of-a-kind design of this amazing building. The outside of the structure will remain virtually unchanged, while those who remember the old bank will still recognize the original style interwoven with the equipment and fixtures necessary for a busy restaurant. And frankly, I can’t wait to bring my family’s recipes and the traditions of Arthur Avenue in the Bronx to Milford.” 

And so, as a result of historic cooperation among a state, a city and private entrepreneurs, the glow of wood-fired ovens will soon light up the corner of Front and Walnut streets. Touch of Italy’s one-of-a-kind fusion of trattoria, salumeria and pasticceria promises to breathe new spirit into historic Milford.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at byesbek@capegazette.com.

    Masthead photo by Grant Gursky. Used with permission from Coastal Style Magazine.

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