Last weekend, Portage Bay/Roanoke Park neighbors got a message from Carla Leonardi, owner of Montlake’s 25-year Italian institution, Cafe Lago. “I grew up in my parent’s corner grocery in Cincinnati,” she wrote. “When the Canal [Market] came available, I was excited about the possibility of opening a neighborhood market and deli with an emphasis on Italian food.”
Hand-holding the neighbors felt critical to Leonardi—a neighbor herself—in the wake of Canal Market’s history. Ericka Burke (Volunteer Park Cafe, Chop Shop) opened the upscale mercantile/drop-in deli last year, but it never took off with neighbors—in part because it quacked like a restaurant in a neighborhood zoned for a grocery/deli; in part because its grocery items were persistently more upscale than the neighborhood wanted. Burke closed Canal Market last month.
Leonardi’s plan? To give neighbors what they want. “The Canal is zoned for grocery/deli and it is my intent to keep it that way,” she wrote. Between 7am and 9pm daily the store will offer grocery items—“everything from toothpaste to ketchup”—and a deli will sell rotisserie chickens, stone hearth pizza, and Italian sandwiches (meatball subs and sausage and peppers) made-to-order. She’ll sell espresso and bakery items by morning, gelato cones during the day, and Cafe Lago’s justifiably famous lasagna-to-go.
Leonardi likes the idea of Little Lago serving as a hub for community events and cooking classes; it will also serve beer and wine. “We are allowed a few stools for seating and hope the neighbors will find our market to be a delightful place to sit and enjoy life with others from near home.” Still, having received a little early blowback from wary neighbors, the owner remains careful to stress that this will not be a restaurant.
Watch this space for further details, but Leonardi’s hoping for a midsummer open. Cafe Lago plans no changes.