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When the Kent Historical Society announced the availability of the lease of the Erie Depot building on Franklin Avenue, which for 25 years was home to the Pufferbelly, Kent developer Ron Burbick saw it as an opportunity to open a new restaurant in downtown Kent.
"I've always been in love with that building," said Burbick, the 72-year-old developer who continues to diversify the retail and dining choices in the downtown district. "The historical society knew that were was a lot of work to be done, but they had no money. We negotiated a deal that it's our responsibility to renovate the building whatever the cost."
Burbick is partnering with Mike Awad, the owner of Laziza Restaurant, to transform the historic building into Treno Ristorante, a "white tablecloth" Italian restaurant featuring authentic Northern Italian cuisine. Treno will open in July.
"The building was built in 1875," Burbick said. "It was renovated in 1981, but they did what they absolutely had to. We went in and gutted the place. That's when we found out all kinds of surprises. It's taking two months longer and $300,000 more."
The renovation cost is $600,000. The outside is being repainted black, maroon and gold and the inside is being completely transformed, while keeping the building's historic charm. The new dining area features rustic Italian chandeliers and the original 1800s terrazzo flooring, which was discovered while digging up carpet to level out the floor.
Burbick's co-partners are Michelle Hartman, chief operating officer of The Burbick Companies, and PGA golfer and Kent State University grad Ben Curtis, who had expressed interest in doing a project in Kent.
"The barn doors we had custom built from the original floor boards that were under the bar," said Hartman, who picked out the chandeliers with Curtis's wife, Candace.
The bar area is as large as the dining room and will have new wrap around bar, high top tables and booths. The bar and lounge will be decorated with golf-theme memorabilia to pay tribute to Curtis, who won the 2003 British Open. Items include trophies and a replica of the British Open trophy, the Claret Jug.
"We'll have golf-related memorabilia and items geared toward Kent State as well," Curtis said. "I grew up in central Ohio and came to school in Kent in '96 and played to 2000 and turned pro and played on the tour for 15 years. Now I'm joining these guys."
No Italian restaurant would be complete without a unique selection of wine. Curtis, a wine connoisseur, is bringing in different boutique wines and working with a winemaker to create a Treno house wine via his own label.
Patrons to Treno will be treated to free valet parking service beginning at 4 p.m. Self parking is available in the 42-space parking lot during lunch hours.
"It's going to be self parking until 3 p.m.," Burbick said. "We start valet parking at 4. It's free for people dining at Treno."
Treno will be open for lunch and dinner six days a week and will likely require a reservation. The menu will feature locally sourced produce, daily specials, homemade pastas and sauces as well as fresh seafood and steaks. Prices will range between $15 and $25.
"The menu is based on Northern Italy," Awad said. "It's going to be different than anything we have in this area. It's not an Olive Garden and it's not a pizzeria. Everything is fresh. We'll go to the Farmer's Market to pick our tomatoes. We'll be cutting cutting our own meats."
Dress attire can be casual or formal, Hartman said.
"I think you're going to see people come in casual and I think you're going to see people dressed up," Hartman said. "It's not going to be stuffy. I think you're going to see everybody."
Awad will start training the new staff at Treno within a couple weeks.
"We've hired about 30 people," Awad said. "They've got to learn the dishes. They've got to learn how we want a plate served from the right to the left. Most of the people have some experience, but we prefer actually people with no experience so we can train them our way."
Burbick said there are plans for an outdoor patio for dining, but not until next summer.
"We're trying to work with the railroad to give us access to one of the two tracks not in use and we'll put a hike and bike trail there and a rest station right out in front of the restaurant, so that people pedaling along can stop and use the restroom and eat on the patio," Burbick said.