It’s been an up-and-down ride the past decade, but hey, That’s Amore.
Michelle Henry, the owner of That’s Amore, Olde Towne Bellevue’s lone Italian eatery, said she will be relinquishing her ownership of the restaurant and, unless a new ownership interest is found, That’s Amore will close.
“There are a couple of different things happening,” said Henry, 60. “But mostly, it’s about time. It takes a lot of time to run a restaurant. But it’ll work out beautifully if we can sell it.”
Henry said she’s mostly stepping aside due to health issues. She recently had a cancer diagnosis and is undergoing treatments which will step up in the coming months.
The restaurant’s lease and liquor license are also up. But Henry said if the right people are willing to come in and make That’s Amore continue to run smoothly, she’d be happy to see the business endure.
“My hope is a family will take it over,” she said. “It’s been a family business since the beginning and I’d like to see that continue.”
Along with her daughter, Heidi, and her husband, Jim, Henry, 69, has been the restaurant’s manager and cook, along with helping in the other facets of restaurateuring.
But Heidi works another job and is trying to get a career going in marketing and management and Jim is a pastor at Woodland Community Bible Church in Crescent, Iowa.
“We’re all doing different things,” Henry said. “And that time element for the restaurant, you can’t avoid it.”
That’s Amore opened on Election Day in 2002 at its original location at 105 E. Mission Ave. Henry said she remembered her husband remarking when she opened for lunch that day she’d be lucky to have a handful of diners.
“Twenty-seven people came in,” she said. “Not bad for the first day. So I gave him the look.”
The original location had been doing business for about a year when Henry applied for a liquor license.
The paperwork moved easily through local jurisdictions, but when the state’s Liquor Control Commission reviewed the application, they found the restaurant was too close to a church.
It wasn’t the sole reason, but after being denied a permit and deciding the restaurant was in need of an expansion to handle larger dinner parties, in 2005 Henry moved That’s Amore into a Days Inn at 1811 Hillcrest Drive.
After about three years at the hotel, a proposed expansion project didn’t pan out and in 2008, Henry closed That’s Amore.
“We kind of knew that it wasn’t going to be a closure for good,” she said. “But we just had to find the right place. After about a year-and-a-half, we were back and back in Olde Towne.”
In 2010, Henry moved the restaurant to its present location, just across the street from the original, at 101 W. Mission Ave.
With the reopening, That’s Amore’s regulars also returned.
“We do have a loyal following,” Henry said. “The other day a customer came in, very sad, but said, ‘Just think about all the good times you’ve given the people of Bellevue.’ And he’s right. We’re definitely going to miss that.”
Two of those loyal customers — Mike and Linda Dieterich said — have been coming to That’s Amore once a week since the second week the restaurant opened in its first location, including traveling to the Days Inn location when it was open.
“The food’s awesome,” said Linda Dieterich, 52. “We understand why it’s happening. We just hope everything always works out for the best for everybody.”
Mike Dieterich, 55, said the couple has tried other Olde Towne businesses, but they kept coming back to That’s Amore, where he has a standing pizza order. They said they would like to see someone buy the restaurant and keep it open.
“We try to stay local if possible,” he said. “You just keep it in the neighborhood if you can.”
Fortunately, even though the restaurant is closing, Henry said she plans on keeping up another part of the business — catering.
“All our recipes are things my daughter and I came up with and we’d like to be able to continue that,” she said.
And though saying good-bye to That’s Amore and hoping the restaurant might still continue to serve the community, Henry said she’ll take fond memories of the place and the people with her.
“We love our customers and are very grateful for their generosity and all the encouragement they’ve given us,” she said.
“We’ve enjoyed being in Bellevue and we’ll still be here, just not with the restaurant business.”
Leader News Editor Scott Stewart contributed to this report.