A Change is Gonna Come: Italia’s 10th Anniversary

Woodland Street’s favorite pizzeria, run by Salem Elkhatib, announces exciting new additions to their already beloved menu. Italia has been a foundation in East Nashville for a decade, slinging mouthwatering pizzas and pastas with fresh ingredients sans additives, preservatives, and other ‘weird’ chemicals. Now, Salem introduces vegan, gluten free, and whole-wheat pizza to the neighborhood while staying true to his Mediterranean roots with “Peace in East Nashville,” a pizza topped with hummus. The savory sauces and distinctive dough are all this family man’s original creation, but that’s not the only thing he’s good at serving up. Salem also delivers a strong mindset for benefiting our community: “The East Nashville cuisine would be a lot poorer if we all copied from each other, so whatever we bring in as individuals is making it more diverse and more elaborate, and I believe that's a good thing.”

 
Join Italia this summer in celebrating 10 years of delicious one-of-a-kind recipes, community support, and no-nonsense pizza!
 
Continue below for a Q&A with Salem about exciting renovations, Italia’s beginnings, and East Nashville’s progression.
 
 
Interview with Salem Elkhatib
What inspired you to make these new renovations?
I have been running the business for 10 years at our address on Woodland Street seven days a week and no chance to update or renovate unless it was necessary or for the purpose of repair. I had countless ideas in my mind, but the lack of time and circumstances were holding me back. As a PhD student, professional engineer, and a family man, I often wished the day were 34 hours instead of only 24. But recently, I was able to free some time and make a decision about priorities.
 
The decisive moment came when I understood that there is a neighborhood that wants to see Italia growing and expanding further, and that wants to see the business that they supported all these years to continue to succeed. It is with the inspiration and support of my customers, friends, and neighbors that this project of remodeling is becoming reality, and we are exited to be able to reveal it in the year of our 10th anniversary at 1600 Woodland Street. The 3400 square footage of our building enables us to bring much more historic East Nashville back to life and make it accessible for the neighborhood. East Nashville has come a long way since we started here in 2003; it has seen many ups and downs ever since, and it is now at a point where a lot of efforts are paying off for many of us. It is a vibrant and very busy neighborhood today and Italia, as it has been part of it for the last decade, wants to continue to be part of it.
 
What are some of Italia’s new menu and facility additions?
As we were the first to introduce the vegan, gluten free, and whole-wheat pizza to Nashville before gluten free was a thing, we are definitely going to expand our menu in this direction. Our customers’ wishes clearly point in this direction, and we want to expand our options in terms of variety. Without mentioning too much, it is going to be as delicious as the items you already love from Italia.
 
Other additions we are planning are to extend our space and to add a patio and outdoor seating.
 
What does it mean to you for you to do all the work yourself, including your recipes?
I am a very creative person by nature, and I like to design something from scratch based on my own ideas. I like the original, and I want to be the one who does something genuine. The East Nashville cuisine would be a lot poorer if we all copied from each other, so whatever we bring in as individuals is making it more diverse and more elaborate, and I believe that's a good thing. It is very satisfying for me to know that I am directly involved in the making of the food that goes to my customers.
 
In 2005, in an effort to bring my personal Mediterranean roots into my pizza making, I came up with the idea of the hummus pizza naming it “Peace in the Historic East Nashville.” It took off right away, and has been one of our hottest selling items ever since. When 2007 came, I decided to bring gluten free pizza to Nashville, making a [non] gluten item accessible to a growing crowd of gluten intolerant customers. About a year ago, I was working hard to bring a tasty and satisfying whole-wheat crust to the neighborhood. Italia has developed all these items, and I find it highly satisfying to come up with new ideas that my customers love and keep coming back for.
 
How did you start Italia?
Italia was born out of a need for change. I am a professional engineer and had been working successfully in this field for quiet a while. When I stared thinking about Italia, I felt the need of turning something I love to do and I knew I was doing well into something I would be doing on a bigger scale and possibly for a living. I have always loved to cook and experiment in the kitchen, and with a big family I always had a crowd to feed. It is fun now to make my customers happy and have the satisfaction of creating something new and interesting worth trying.
 
We actually started Italia in a different place than were it is today. We spotted the neighborhood and thought that it had potential, and luckily we were right on this. All that was missing in this nice part of town, with its historic buildings and atmosphere, was a place to go for a good dinner. At this time, options were really limited and gentrification had just begun. East Nashville, at this time, was another world than what it is today and being out there serving food to the neighborhood was a very special experience and a school of life. When Italia opened, it opened in a much smaller place with the necessary minimum to start with, and as a personal experiment. We are happy to say that it has been growing consistently ever since.
 
What is your favorite item on the menu?
“Peace in East Nashville” unites several aspects that are important for me. It added my very personal touch to the pizza menu. It goes back to the beginnings of Italia and therefore has a nostalgic taste for me. Our customers loved it and have been adding ideas to create more varieties, some with very own personal recipes.
 

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