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Closing of Belle Arti marks end of an era

by Lindsey Wells | January 20, 2018 at 4:00 a.m.

It was the end of an era in downtown Hot Springs when Belle Arti Italian Ristorante said its final goodbyes to the city on Jan. 14 after over 20 years in business.

The restaurant, located at 719 Central Ave., was owned and operated by Chef Joe Gargano and his wife, Penny, for 17 and a half years, and was considered an icon of downtown Hot Springs.

The couple celebrated their 17th anniversary of being in Hot Springs on June 1 last year. The Garganos have been known citywide for their involvement in downtown Hot Springs, which will continue through their remaining restaurant, The Porterhouse Restaurant at 707 Central Ave.

The Porterhouse will continue to operate and will incorporate some of Belle Arti's signature menu items as a tribute to the restaurant.

The No. 1 item being asked after, Penny Gargano said, is a pasta dish called Tortellini A La Panna. Other signature Belle Arti items that will be featured at The Porterhouse include the Choppino, a seafood medley, the Osso Bucco, sea food dishes like the lobster ravioli, salads, and homemade desserts including the vanilla and chocolate creme brulee and homemade tiramisu.

These signature items and the tribute menu to Belle Arti will be available at The Porterhouse by Valentine's Day.

Though the Garganos felt a sense of sadness on their last night of operation at Belle Arti, Penny Gargano said there was also a sense of happiness.

"It was sad -- I mean, my children grew up here. We came to Arkansas because of Belle Arti. But I hate to use the word 'sad' because there was also a sense of happiness. The people that are purchasing the building are going to make loft apartments upstairs. They're going to do something new and trendy in the restaurant space so it was sad to see an era come to a close, but it was happy to know that the space would come back to its glory. We feel very good about our decision because we felt like we've made a contribution to the community. But it was time to let some new blood take over," she added.

The building was sold, however the trade name of Belle Arti will stay with the Garganos.

"We were ready to transition to something else and start downsizing and we weren't comfortable with transferring our name to someone else, or the reputation, the history of Belle Arti. I think it was kind of synonymous with Joe and myself," Penny Gargano said. "It was just time. We weren't forced to close, and we could have sold, but this really was a choice. It was just time for my husband and I, physically, to make that decision. We're still going to do our catering, we're still going to do our banquets, we're just trying to do it under one roof."

Penny Gargano said the entire staff of Belle Arti was given the option to transfer their employment to The Porterhouse.

"Not one person lost their job unless they did not want to transition. We weren't The Dixie Cafe; every single person has a job if they want it, and they're all giving it a try. That was a priority for my husband and I," she said.

"Belle Arti was a family. Everybody knew that it was family owned and operated and our staff became our family. If they had babies or bought a house or got in trouble, it was a family, we just helped each other out and that's not going to change. So, there was a sense of sadness that night. There was a great sense of sadness and I don't know that I could find a better word. But, I also felt very rewarded."

For the new year, Penny Gargano said she is looking forward to embellishing on The Porterhouse, continuing to spread the word about The Porterhouse Club, and continuing her catering work.

"Belle Arti brought our family to Hot Springs, Ark. It is where our children grew up, learned the value of hard work and aspired into fine young men. Belle Arti is where our patrons became our friends and these friends became our family. We thank the community as a whole for the support and love we have received and embraced throughout the years. We look forward to seeing you at The Porterhouse," the Garganos said in a news release.

Local on 01/20/2018

Print Headline: Closing of Belle Arti marks end of an era

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