AYER -- What is up with that "SOLD" sign appearing on the front window of J.P. O'Hanlon's at 9 Main St.?
It's the future home of the New England Flatbread and Ale Company. Anne and Markoh diCicco, the owners of Lucia's Tavola and Markoh's on Main, have teamed up with local businessman Keith Leighton as co-owners of the new restaurant. Leighton also owns the Spaulding Building at 25 Main St.
According to Anne diCicco, the working concept is New England local, sustainable and organic food with a pub focusing on local microbrews.
"It's a real-food revolution," quips Anne diCicco. "We want restaurants to move back to taking real ingredients to make real food. At Lucia's, we make bread every day, plus all the mozzarella, sauces, pastas, desserts and even salad dressings in-house."
Lucia's has its meat, seafood and produce delivered fresh, four times a week. The diCiccos believe that whatever food they prepare, they should use fresh ingredients.
DiCicco said they decided to purchase J.P. O'Hanlon's after looking at the demographics and seeing the potential in Ayer's downtown district, which they believe is currently undergoing a revitalization. She said they hope to be able to make it the local watering hole and still be family-friendly.
"What's happening in Devens is flowing over into Ayer," said diCicco. "Devens is growing and working to increase industry, with two lovely hotels and New England Studios. There is definitely room for growth in Ayer.
New England Flatbread and Ale Company will make to-order organic flatbread pizza baked in a wood-fired oven. Organic salads will be served and the flatbread pizzas will have a wide variety of organic toppings to choose from. In addition to a host of local microbrews, the restaurant will feature locally roasted organic coffee by Rock'n Roll Hall of Famer Joey Kramer, the drummer for Aerosmith.
"This is absolutely a great location and the town is absolutely more than waiting for it," explains co-owner Keith Leighton. "I think it will really take off."
Construction on New England Flatbread and Ale restaurant will begin in as little as two weeks, according to Leighton. They will install a new HVAC system and convert to gas heat for a more efficient and clean system, and they will build a new kitchen, bathrooms and bar. With mostly cosmetic work to be done on both the inside and the outside of the building, and a liquor license just three months out, Leighton says that early fall is the target date to open for business.
There is already a Facebook Page for people to track the progress of the new restaurant at 9 Main St. and stay informed regarding upcoming events, including the grand opening.
For people who are not on Facebook, they may sign up to join Lucia's mailing list at luciastavola.com. Chef Mark diCicco is also on Twitter @chefmarkoh.
Chef Markoh comes from a large Italian family and has been in the restaurant business for decades. After dabbling in the business in the south, he and his wife Anne moved north where he served several culinary stints, including executive chef at the Inn on Newfound Lake in Bristol, N.H., before purchasing Lucia's in Brookline, N.H., in 2009. Mark's great-grandmother's name was Lucia, so they never dared change the name, and continued with that name for Lucia's Tavola in Ayer, where her portrait hangs.
The diCicco's met Calvin Moore, of Ayer, and that is how they came upon the restaurant location at 31 Main St. For 14 months they ran both the Lucia's restaurants and then closed the one in Brookline and brought all their staff with them to Ayer. Lucia's in Ayer opened in April of 2012 and by February of 2013, the diCicco's opened Markoh's on Main to accommodate functions like banquets, parties and weddings.
So what's going to happen between now and the fall on Main Street? Anne diCicco has made plans for a "Summer Art Walk on Main" on Wednesday evenings in downtown Ayer, beginning in July. diCicco partnered with Joni Parker Roach from NOA Art Gallery in Groton for this venture. NOA artwork will be featured in the Magnolia Room, a rotating gallery space located at Markoh's on Main. In addition, other local galleries and businesses on Main Street will remain open on Wednesday nights, such as the Harding Mudge Bush Gallery and The Cottage Restaurant. diCicco will also have artisans displaying artwork on the sidewalks, including looms, knitting, jewelry, antiques, pottery, farmers market items from Hollis, N.H., and local musicians who will play live music along the art walk.
Beginning in June, Parker Roach and Anne diCicco will present Masters Study Night and Zentangle Workshops with other art-inspired activities including open mic night and poetry slams at the Magnolia Room in Markoh's on Main.
"Our Master Study Paint Night is an opportunity for anyone to learn how to paint like one of the great masters," explains Parker-Roach. "One Wednesday we will do Van Gogh's Sunflowers in a vase and another week, Monet's Water Lilies."
She said they will offer more than your typical paint night, including a little art history about the masters and a wine-tasting with hors d'oeuvres and music from the regions where the masters were painting. Parker-Roach will teach these classes using easy-to-follow steps with acrylics that she says are easy to use and mix.
The Zentangle workshops will be on alternating Wednesday nights and will feature Zentangle art with a watercolor wash. The summer schedule will soon be available on markohs.com.