Gastown-restaurant refresh: Joe Pizza is reborn as Di Beppe, an Italian café and ristorante with an aperitivo culture

Executive chef Letitia Wan, formerly of Ask for Luigi, joins the small but growing list of female-led kitchens in Vancouver

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      With so many intriguing places opening up on a regular basis, it can be hard to keep up with Vancouver’s restaurant scene.

      If you’ve been meaning to check out the original Joe Pizza location in Gastown, you may not even be aware that the West Cordova eatery has come and gone.

      But this is not a bad-news story.

      Joe Pizza still operates at UBC on University Boulevard. It serves up “al taglio”-style pies—the kind baked in a rectangular pan and sold by the slice or slab.

      Meanwhile, Joe Pizza's first home at 8 West Cordova Street has been reimagined by the same restaurant group, the Kitchen Table. With chef J-C Poirier at the culinary helm, the team is also behind Ask for Luigi, Pizzeria Farina, Pourhouse, and St. Lawrence.

      Di Beppe functions as a dual space: there’s the Caffè on one side and the Ristorante on the other. Hold that thought for just a minute.

      Given the short duration of Joe Pizza Gastown (it was open less than a year), it raises the question: What happened?

      “We got it wrong, plain and simple,” Kitchen Group spokesperson Tavia Cosper tells the Straight. “It was simply not the best use of all that space. We had to quickly and unemotionally come to terms with this and get back to what we love and what we do best.

      “Di Beppe is something we’ve wanted to do for a while, but the type of space we needed in order to do it was difficult to find--until we realized it was right under our noses,” she adds. “It’s hard to tell people to come in and enjoy themselves with no time constraints or reservations--really ‘hang out’--when they can feel people staring at them waiting for their table. With two spaces to move through, you can start the night with a few drinks in the Caffè while you wait or finish it by lingering back in the Caffè after your meal and have a few more drinks or sweets and coffee and really take your time.”

      The Di Beppe restaurant’s menu is all-encompassing Italian, from the pasta dishes of Rome (like caccio pepe) to lesser-known pizza styles of Naples from the Sorentine Peninsula (like pizza al metro). (Pizza al metro, Cosper notes, originated in the 1930s in the Sorentine Peninsula and was created by a local baker named Luigi Dell' Amura. The Sorentine Peninsula partially occupies the province of Naples, the birthplace of pizza, as well as the province of Salerno.)

      There's an aperitivo culture building here, with special attention being given to beverages that are low in alcohol and meant to be enjoyed before a meal to stimulate the appetite, including classic Italian cocktails like the Spritz as well different types of vermouth. (The vermouths are split into three styles: Rosso, Bianco, and Chinato, which can be served neat, on the rocks, or with a splash of soda.)

      Chris Giannakos (of Revolver Coffee) has created the coffee menu, with Italian-style espresso drinks made from freshly ground beans and with proper ratios of water to coffee.

      Letitia Wan is the executive chef at Di Beppe in Gastown.
      Kitchen Table/Instagram.

      Perhaps even more notable than the food and drink is that Di Beppe marks the promotion of Letitia Wan. Formerly chef de cuisine at Ask for Luigi, she’s the executive chef at Di Beppe, joining the ranks of female-led kitchens in a field still dominated by men, locally and elsewhere.

      “She is a remarkable woman with immense talent who can cook fantastic Italian food,” Cosper says. “J-C has never given the reins so easily to someone else in the past. I think that speaks volumes.”