Majestic Grille owners Patrick and Denis Reilly will open a new restaurant this fall. The couple signed a lease in Harbor Town to open a permanent location for Cocozza American Italian.
What started as a temporary pop-up idea to re-open in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cocozza pop-up quickly became a beloved lunch concept that included a line of takeaways and baked goods. Cocozza was open from July 2020 to March 2021.
Cocozza will open in the fall at 110 Harbor Town Square. The space next door to Cordelia Market was most recently home to Movie & Pizza Co.
The Reillys have stated that they aim to fill a niche in and out of the densely populated residential area by offering family-friendly classic American Italian dishes that are quick and easy to order for take-out, delivery, and a full-service casual sit-down restaurant with a “fun, a quirky dining room that evokes memories of eating in your beloved grandma’s kitchen.”
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This idea has simmered in Reilly’s mind for years. The American-Italian red sauce style diner has its roots in the couple’s past.
“One of the reasons I married Patrick was his vodka rigatoni,” Denis said. “I was skeptical that this Irishman could cook my favorite dish – and he did.”
Denis grew up in New Jersey dining in American red sauce Italian restaurants. Dishes such as vodka rigatoni, eggplant parmesan and marinara penne are all dishes that evoke memories of home in Denis – and these are the dishes that the duo have included in their menu.
Like the pop-up, this regular version of Cocozza will offer old-school red-sauce dishes like lasagne and manicotti and classic American Italian dishes like chicken piccata and Milanese pork, inspired by the Denis family’s Italian heritage.
Patrick said that interesting novelties will also appear on the menu. He plans to add dishes such as Clams Casino and hot prawns, parmesan veal, shell steak and Daily Entrée specialties.
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Alex Turley, CEO of Henry Turley (owner of the building), said he was personally delighted with the new diner.
“As a kid, I spent my summers on the Jersey Shore,” Turley said. “and I never thought I could get my dose of red sauce without going back to New Jersey until I had Cocozza. Patrick’s Chicken Parmesan is delicious and so is this sauce. I think during the pandemic my family had to travel at least once a week.”
The Reillys plan to open a 1,725-square-foot restaurant this fall. It will feature a 50-seat dining room, a full-service bar, a takeaway area, a covered outdoor patio, a kitchen, and a pantry. The Reillys collaborated with local designer Natalie Lieberman of Collect + Curate Studio to design the space.
The name Cocozza not only comes from the roots of Denis, but is also associated with Memphis. Denis’s grandfather’s family came from a tiny town in the Molise region of Italy called Filignano, where several generations of Cocose men had served as mayor. When her great-grandfather immigrated to the United States, he changed his surname, as did many who entered the country, dropping Kokoza’s surname in favor of Ferguson.
When Cocozza was coming to life, the Reillys discovered that Elvis’ favorite singer was Mario Lanza, a famous opera singer and movie star who was known to the family as Alfred Cocozza.
“We’re planning on having some fun and paying homage to the Cocos family, as well as ties to our famous relative, singer and movie star Mario Lanza and his No. 1 fan, Memphis’ own Elvis Presley,” Denis said.
Jennifer Chandler is a food and restaurant reporter for The Commercial Appeal. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter and Instagram at @cookwjennifer.