St. Vito Focacceria: A Pandemic Success Story in Nashville’s Food Scene

Photo Credit: Kayla Cook

This conversation is part of the “Meet Nashville” series
exclusive interviews with local Nashville bars, restaurants, hotels, attractions & more owners.

When Chef Michael Hanna was laid off during the pandemic, he didn't complain; he got to work. Having been in the kitchen from an early age, he dug into his Sicilian family roots and started making sfincione pizza for his friends.

In this article, Michael tells the story of the ups and downs of business during one of the roughest times in recent history.

Starting with successful popup restaurants, St. Vito Focacceria now has a permanent home in the Gulch. It's a testament to the Nashville community that got behind “a unique little shop that offers a style and blend of flavors you can’t get anywhere else.”

How do you start a new pizza restaurant in Nashville during a pandemic with a ton of competition?

Michael tells the story below. Enjoy!

🔗 Business Information
🔗Interview with owner
🔗Behind the scenes

Restaurant Information

Name: St. Vito Focacceria

Owner: Michael Hanna

Address: 605 Mansion St, Nashville, TN 37203

Description: Unique Sicilian Pizza and Italian Cuisine in Nashville.

Interview with the Owner

Exclusive Nashville To Do interview with Michael Hanna, owner of St. Vito Focacceria located in Nashville, Tennessee —

Interview Date:

November 11, 2023

Hello! Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Michael Hanna. I am 36 years old and am originally from the Memphis metro area. I come from a family of restaurateurs and chefs on my mothers side who are also from Sicilian heritage.

My father’s family was originally sharecroppers in the Arkansas Delta. I grew up eating traditional Italian-American and Sicilian favorites, but also incredibly Southern dishes. Being from the area, of course, I have an affinity for bbq.

Owner Michael Hanna. Photo by Nigel Dennis

Were you in the hospitality business before? If not, what did you do?

Yes, I have always been in the hospitality business. I have been in kitchens since I was 19.

What inspired you to open St. Vito Focacceria? Take us through the early days. What was that like?

I felt the time was right, and coincidentally it was during a global pandemic. There was a silver lining of sorts available to take advantage for people like me.

I saw a community yearning to support their own. I was furloughed and didn’t want to sit on my hands until someone else told me it was okay to move.

So, I decided this was the right time to jump out there on my own. I began making sfincione pizza for my friends and through word of mouth, our business organically began to grow.

Photo Credit: Emily Dorio

I understand that St. Vito began in your home during the pandemic as a way to support your family. Can you share more about the challenges you faced during that time and how you overcame them?

The biggest challenge during the pandemic was making sure I could create a consistent product.

The surrounding community was amazing and supported us through everything, but having to move the business created obstacles for myself and my customers.

Transitioning from operating as a pop-up to having your own space must have been a significant milestone. Can you describe that journey?

We had many different potential investors and groups come forward with interest in helping us. Obviously not all of them worked out and sometimes it was because I wanted to move in a different direction and sometimes it was because they wanted to
move in a different direction. Negotiation is just a part of life and doing business.

You’re not always going to get everything you dream up. Being able to navigate those lanes, to me, is very important especially in this business. The journey was up and down.

We had highly successful pop-ups and gained some amazing press along the way, but we still had to hammer down how this concept would come to life in a brick and mortar – while ultimately being a profitable business in a hectic time and a booming city with loads of competition.

Photo Credit: Emily Dorio

You emphasize using local products as much as possible. Why is this important to you?

We predominantly use local products sourced from Harpeth Moon Farm in Kingston Springs, TN, and Corner Spring Farm in Portland, TN. It’s important to us because it’s supporting our local slow food movement, and the produce tastes better.

We want to make sure to support local artisans and farmers because we are locals too. With the intense growth and massive restaurant groups moving to Nashville on a weekly basis, I stand proud to make sure we support our purveyors and their craft.

How do you describe St. Vito?

St. Vito is Nashville’s own pizza shop. We are a unique little shop that offers a style and blend of flavors you can’t get anywhere else. We want to make sure we plant our flag in support of our locals in this city and let them know we are here for them.

How did St. Vito get its name?

St. Vito got its name from reading an excerpt from the cookbook Made in Sicily by Giorgio Locatelli. The San Vito nuns in Palermo 600 years ago invented this style and we felt it was important to pay homage.

Why did you choose Nashville? What makes it such a special place?

I chose Nashville to further my culinary career. I met my wife and started a family here. I felt the city had tremendous potential for someone like me to be successful starting a business.

The culinary scene has exploded and we have some incredible restaurants. I wanted to measure myself and our brand up against the best in the city.

What are you most excited about right now with your business?

I am excited about the growth in the neighborhood and the direction we are taking the restaurant. I want to make sure we are accessible to everyone.

We offer take out, delivery through Uber Eats and, of course, dine-in. I don’t want to be considered a reservation only type of place, so we are offering first-come-first-serve for our bar area and introducing a happy hour by mid-November.

We strive to make St. Vito a good hang spot for everyone that’s also affordable. Whole pizzas are available for $30 and happy hour wine is available for $8 a glass or $30 bottle.

What do you recommend everyone should try at St. Vito?

Try the potato sfincione!

What does the future hold?

I hope the future holds a successful restaurant that treats people fairly and stays true to the community that helped build us.

Where can we go to learn more?

Behind the Scenes

Alex Hawker

Hey. I’m Alex. I'm the founder and writer here at Nashville To Do. I've been living in and writing about Nashville for over a decade now, and I'm excited to share all I've learned! Learn more about me here.

Alex Hawker

Hey. I’m Alex. I'm the founder and writer here at Nashville To Do. I've been living in and writing about Nashville for over a decade now, and I'm excited to share all I've learned! Learn more about me here.

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