By Deb Everts

As families across Western New York “hunker down” for the duration of the COVID-19 epidemic, a local restaurateur has a solution that will allow families to plan and have meals on-hand during the ongoing uncertainty.

Nick Pitillo, owner of the popular Italian restaurants, Villaggio in Ellicottville and Osteria 166 in Buffalo, has launched a new frozen meal order and delivery service online at StockTheFreezer.com.

With the catchphrase, “Stock the freezer. Let us feed you,” Pitillo is taking on the social distancing mandate by offering people a variety of classics and family favorites made in his restaurants through his new website.

The site allows individuals to order freshly prepared, immediately frozen meals from a selection of items found on the two restaurants’ menus. Visitors to the site will be able to choose from a number of the restaurants’ popular dishes and family favorites including lasagna, pasta, Nani’s meatballs, sauce, soup, appetizers and even dessert and wine.

The meals are available in a variety of portion sizes from single-serve dishes, starting at $8, to family-sized trays serving 8-12 people, from $29 to $49.

Pitillo said StockTheFreezer.com is not a typical take-out order service. He said orders placed through the site will be cooked fresh and immediately frozen for the customers’ convenience. Then the food will be delivered to the customer’s door, complete with preparation instructions. There is a $50 minimum order per delivery location. Delivery is free and is currently within a 30-mile radius of each restaurant. 

Pitillo said the idea for the frozen food and delivery service came about March 15 when he and some friends were talking about Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement about the closure of all restaurant dining rooms. He said he was devastated because he had to lay-off 20 people at Villaggio on March 15 and 40 at Osteria March 16.

“We knew it was coming, at some point, and we thought we had another week but we didn’t,” he said. “It broke my heart having to tell all those people that they were being laid off. So, I started racking my brain and trying to think outside the box to come up with something we could do to put people back to work.”

Pitillo said a friend of his called him with an idea, which was “meal prep” where people prepare whole meals or dishes ahead of schedule. He started thinking about a version of meal prep but, instead of people doing the prep at home, his two restaurants would be doing it for the customers and the meals would be frozen to keep them fresh.

“I called my team man to tell him I had an idea and we just kind of ran with it,” he said. “We started with buying a website through the assistance of Mike Telesco and his team at Telesco Creative Group that came up with the domain name, StockTheFreezer.com. Everybody was onboard, at that point, and I’m so blessed to have the people around me that I have. My friend Phil Pantano has been wonderful with this whole thing and has helped me along the way.” 

The site is already up and running — ready to receive orders with the first delivery date of March 24. Once fully operational, Pitillo hopes to make deliveries within 48 hours of orders being received. Visitors can also utilize the site to order meals for other family members, or to donate meals to local food pantries and organizations.

According to Pitillo, they sold nearly a thousand meals online in the first 24 hours. As of March 23, over 1,500 meals have been donated to local people in need, and a few hundred have already been donated for needy people in Cattaraugus County.

He said his longtime friend Tina Zerbian, CEO at Cattaraugus Community Action in Salamanca, will distribute the meals to various soup kitchens around the county by the end of the week. He also plans to have food taken to the Response to Love Center in Buffalo this week.

“People are home with their families and the grocery stores are hectic,” he said.  “This is Western New York, and we look out for one another. We’re coming together to give local families the peace of mind that a piece or a tray of lasagna can bring while we all weather this storm.”

Pitillo said once the new portion of the business is up and running smoothly, they hope to offer “grab-n-go” out of both restaurants in the future which, he said, may have some long term sustainability.

“Right now, we are just trying to figure it out — how much we can produce a day, do we need a second shift, yet, and what’s the plan,” he said. “The margins on this are almost nothing, but we want to be sure that we are feeding people and putting them to work.”

To place an order for frozen food delivery, visit their special website, stockthefreezer.com, or call (716) 858-3118. For updates, visit their Facebook pages. To find out more about the restaurants, visit online at villaggioevl.com and osteriabuffalo.com.