Cannella’s Italian restaurant closes after a 42-year run in Salt Lake City

(Ryan Galbraith | Tribune file photo) Owner Joey Cannella is seen in his restaurant in this 2007 photo.

Another Salt Lake City restaurant is saying arrivederci.

This time it is the iconic Cannella’s Restaurant and Lounge, which is closing after 42 years in business.

“It had a really good run,” owner Joe Cannella said Tuesday, “but it’s become harder and harder to make it work.”

Cannella said 2020 started off rocky for the Italian eatery, with the January homeless camp — and protests — at nearby City Hall. Then came the coronavirus shutdown, an earthquake and, more recently, protests against racism and police violence — events that have kept customers away from the restaurant’s downtown location at 204 E. 500 South.

“It’s a hard decision,” Cannella said, “but ultimately the right one for us right now.”

Founded in 1978 by Cannella’s parents — Joe and Missy — the family-owned restaurant was a favorite lunch spot for downtown workers, offering hearty salads, pastas and a signature meatball sandwich at reasonable prices.

Customers would line up at the counter in the back of the restaurant and then jockey for space among the limited tables, oftentimes sharing space with strangers.

In 2007, Cannella’s expanded to the west, knocking down a portion of the brick wall that the restaurant had once shared with Junior’s Tavern. With more space, Cannella’s was able to offer dinner and get a full-service liquor license to serve beer, wine and cocktails.

In June, after trying to survive on takeout and patio seating, Cannella initially decided to close the restaurant for all of July, telling customers on social media that it would reopen in August.

But with coronavirus cases remaining high, it became unclear when normalcy would return to the city, said Cannella. “We just decided it’s time to celebrate what we were able to pull off for four-plus decades.”

The eatery is just the latest casualty of the pandemic. Two weeks ago, Ali Sabbah, owner of Mazza Mediterranean Restaurant, said he was closing his location at 912 E. 900 South.

Cannella said the family owns the building, which also has apartments and is home to a fast-casual restaurant — Taco Taco — which is faring better in the pandemic. He plans to lease the Cannella’s space to another business, hopefully a restaurant or cafe.

Missy Cannella, now 78, spent Tuesday inside the restaurant, removing old black-and-white photos of her husband — who died 12 years ago — from the walls. She got teary-eyed, her son said, but also is looking forward to finally retiring.

Longtime customers also were saddened by the news, posting memories on Cannella’s Facebook page.

“So many memories starting from college hangover lunches to date dinners, client lunches and more family celebrations than I can count,” wrote one customer. “You have always been one of our favorite places to dine. You are a Salt Lake icon and will be deeply missed.”

Added another fan: “Thank you for being such an amazing part and fixture of our Italian community. ... I remember all the great times I have had there, enjoying amazing food and good drinks with great friends.”