Our Towns

On Trumbull’s New Food Trail, a Taste of Italy

WARREN, Ohio – If you’re curious about how many sources there are for Italian food in the region, the 45-plus restaurants, grocers and specialty shops on Trumbull County’s Italian Food Trail provide a good sample.

From fine dining to family restaurants to pizzaerias to wineries, the Italian Food Trail lists locations throughout the 25-mile-by-25-mile county. It can be found on its very own website, ItalianFoodTrail.com, complete with interactive map.

The trail is the brainchild of Beth Kotwis Carmichael, the new executive director of the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau. Carmichael introduced the Italian Food Trail at a press event Wednesday at Salvatore’s Italian Grill in Warren.

Carmichael started with the bureau in May after living out of the area for 30 years working in the tourism and hospitality industries in Florida, Missouri and California’s Napa Valley. When she took the job, the Ohio state legislature “declared this the year of the trails,” she said.

With TourismOhio and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources announcing initiatives of their own this year – Ohio Adventure Trails and the Ohio Trails Partnership, respectively – Carmichael she wanted to do something that featured Trumbull’s culture and aligned with the latest trends in tourism. Specifically, experiential food trails.

“You can’t get this kind of food outside of this area,” Carmichael said. “You can’t find greens outside of the area. Italian wedding soup is just starting to pop up in other areas.”

In two months, her office compiled a list of locations for Italian food, built the website and put together promotional materials. The trail is being advertised in Ohio Magazine’s farm-to-table e-newsletter, and Carmichael plans to have the trail listed at trails.ohio.org and is working with TourismOhio to promote Trumbull County to the rest of the state, she said.

From there, she looks to market the trail outside of Ohio to attract a national audience. The goal, she said, is to promote Trumbull County as a vacation destination. In 2017, Trumbull County saw $550 million in business activity specifically related to tourism and visitors, she said.

“Food and hospitality play an important role in our Italian culture,” she said. “But the foot trail celebrates more than just local restaurants. It celebrates all Italian you that you can find in Trumbull County.”

That culture, she said, is evident in the Italian dishes served at the locations on the trail. Many of the restaurants prepare food according to family recipes that existed in the late 1800s during the coal and steel boom, she said.

“We have many third- and fourth-generation Italian-Americans still eating similarly to their ancestors,” she said. “Some use recipes hand-written on old scraps of paper while others have the ingredients memorized, feeling and tasting their way to the proper ratios.”

The Sunrise Inn has been a mainstay in downtown Warren since 1929. Its owner, Ken Haidaris, said the area’s restaurants have a reputation of using traditional recipes and having the owners working in the restaurants daily.

“This stuff is all made from scratch. We’re not opening bags of things,” Haidaris said. “And we’re all local. Our money stays in the community.”

Haidaris makes it a point to use as much local products and services as he can for his restaurant, he said, including local produce and landscaping services. The Italian Food Trail will bring more attention to that reputation, he said.

And attention can be difficult to draw, said Christina Benton, owner of Just Pizzelles in Cortland. Her bakery specializes in a niche product, she said, which can make promoting her company outside of the area difficult.

“Some people outside of the area are clueless about what a pizzelle is,” she said. “Our challenge is trying to get out there nationally because we ship worldwide.”

Many of Benton’s customers are from the Cleveland area, she said. The Italian Food Trail gives her a vehicle to refer her customers to other local restaurants while providing her with another platform, she said.

Bringing Trumbull County onto a bigger stage means restaurants will need to step up their game as well, said Salvatore Coppola Jr. His father, Salvatore Coppola Sr., uses family recipes brought over from the Naples, Italy, area when his family emigrated to the United States in the 1970s. The family owns and operates three restaurants, including Salvatore’s Italian Grill Howland, Salvatore’s Italian Grill Austintown and Salvatore’s Pizzeria in the Eastwood Mall.

As Trumbull draws more attention for its Italian cuisine, restaurateurs will have to maintain their traditional dishes while pushing themselves to try something new. Coppola Sr. is already making progress, having spent the last two months in Italy researching recipes and techniques, Coppola Jr. said.

“Customers want to see some variety,” Coppola said. “It’s fun for us to change up our plates and do some more seasonal things.”

The list on the trail is “as complete as we believe it to be,” the tourism bureau’s Carmichael said. For any Trumbull County restaurateurs who weren’t included on the list, she encourages them to contact the tourism bureau to be added. In 2019, she plans to expand the list even further and potentially court listings from outside of the county.

Pictured: Beth Kotwis Carmichael (left), executive director of the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau joins restaurateurs Salvatore Coppola Jr. of Salvatore’s Italian Grill, Ken Haidaris of Sunrise Inn and Christina Benton of Just Pizzelles to launch the Trumbull County Italian Food Trail.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.