Taliano’s partners with others to bring pizza, craft beer to downtown Fort Smith

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 2,303 views 

Three establishments are joining forces to present a new bar and restaurant to downtown Fort Smith. Taliano’s, Bike Rack Brewing Co. and Vinnie’s Pies have agreed to collaborate to offer pizzas, appetizers and sides, along with craft beer and mixed drinks in the former sister restaurant of Taliano’s, formerly known as Emmy’s, at 200 N. 13th St.

Joe Caldarera, owner/operator of Taliano’s, Fort Smith’s oldest family-owned restaurant, said the restaurant recently went through a restructuring, which led them to close Emmy’s, a German restaurant Caldarera opened in 2009.

“Emmy’s has been wonderful. We had some very loyal customers. But when we were reorganizing and analyzing, we decided it was time for a change,” Caldarera said.

After Emmy’s closed, Caldarera reached out to Vincent and Ursula Hansen, who opened Vinnie’s Pies at the beginning of 2023 out of the Bakery District in a food truck.

“He is from the New York/New Jersey area, and they really do have a true New York-style pizza. They are young and hard workers and I really respect what they are doing,” Caldarera said.

Co-founder and pizza man “Vinnie” learned to make pizza in New Jersey, was taught the ropes, by an Italian family-run business, at the age of 17 and has been making pizzas for almost 10 years.

“We moved here in between chapters of our life, and we couldn’t find any dedicated East Coast-style pizza in the area. For fun, we started making pizzas in our backyard for friends and family on a donation basis, and it just organically snowballed from there. We’re so grateful for the support we have rallied in such a short time, and we can’t wait to take things to the next level,” said Vincent Hansen.

The menu will have an American-Italian influence, capturing the New York/ New Jersey Italian food culture, he said.

“The idea is to create a shareable menu, from the pizzas, and appetizers to the sides. There won’t be any personal pies, but we’ll have some fun options for kids, and excited to introduce a 22-inch pie, made for families and friends.” said Ursula Henson.

Joe Caldarera, owner/operator of Taliano’s (center), poses with Vincent and Ursula Hansen, owners of Vinnie’s Pies.

But Caldera had more in mind for the collaboration, so he also reached out to Bike Rack Brewing Co, one of Northwest Arkansas’ longest-standing breweries. The Hansens will lease the kitchen of the restaurant and run their operation separately from the bar, though both will be in the same building, said Caldarera, who noted that he put a new bar into the building only a few years ago.

Caldarera will run the bar, serving Bike Rack craft beers exclusively. Bike Rack has 16 taps in its main location at 8th Street Market in Bentonville, and Calderara said he expects to have a wide variety of their beers on tap. Beer will run about $6 a pint, but Caldarera said he plans to work with Bike Rack’s marketing for VIP-type programs.

Co-founder of Bentonville-based Bike Rack Jeff Charlson and his wife, Brooke, said Bike Rack Brewing is thrilled to expand its presence and brand into downtown Fort Smith. The new Fort Smith Bike Rack location will feature Vinnie’s Pies, a full-service bar and an extensive line-up of Bike Rack beers, he said.

“I have known Jeff with Bike Rack for nearly three decades and have recently gotten to know Vinnie and Ursula. I am continually impressed with their commitment to hard work, their product, and for customer satisfaction. These brands closely align with the values that have made Taliano’s a success for over half a century,” Caldarera said.

He said the area has some great craft beer options at Chaffee Crossing and he knows another craft brewery is planned at the Bakery District in Fort Smith, but he believes the combination of good pizza and good craft beer will be a great addition to downtown Fort Smith.

“I could not be more excited about this new collaboration. I have been in the hospitality business in the River Valley my whole life, and I know the market well. This will be a much-needed and welcome concept for the whole community, and specifically for the vibrant downtown Fort Smith area,” he said.

The restaurant will have an indoor open-plan bar and dining area, seating up to 75 guests. Located next to Talianos, the idea is to create a nostalgic “mom and pop” style hangout, with casual dining on “the best quality pizza” and an array of craft beer on tap.

Caldarera is “refreshing” the restaurant with new paint and flooring. A building permit issued by the City of Fort Smith on Thursday (Oct. 5) shows that Cadelli-Caldarera Inc. is putting in a pony wall addition into the restaurant. The project is estimated at $8,000. Caldarera said the two portions – bar and restaurant – might not always be open at the same time as he is hoping to have the bar open for things like Sunday and Monday night football. The Hansens will set their own hours for operation of the restaurant.

Because he will also be open for lunch, Caldarera says he expects the bar portion will employ between 10 and 15 part-time employees. The number of restaurant employees is not yet known. Caldarera said he hopes the restaurant/bar will open before the holidays and the end of the year.

“I think people are excited about this. It’s exciting to be doing something new that is keeping up with the time and at the same time be able to keep Taliano’s in the tradition people have loved for 53 years,” he said.