After negative COVID-19 tests, The Villaggio in Ellicottville did not close last week

Nick Pitillo, owner of The Villaggio in Ellicottville, stands near one of the many plexiglass dividers the restaurant uses as part of its COVID-19 protocols. The restaurant was linked to a COVID-19 mini-cluster, but tests came back negative and Villaggio opened as planned last weekend.

ELLICOTTVILLE — When Nick Pitillo, owner of The Villaggio in Ellicottville, spotted his restaurant’s name associated with positive tests for COVID-19 online Monday night, he knew he had to quickly set the record straight.

The Olean Times Herald ran a story in Tuesday’s editions and online Monday night that the Cattaraugus County Health Department suspected one or more mini-clusters of COVID- 19 among employees of several village restaurants.

Pitillo said he wanted to make sure everyone knew that The Villaggio had not been closed due to COVID-19, as the news story indicated. Nor had any employees tested positive for the virus.

The New York State Department of Health and Cattaraugus County health officials conducted mobile COVID-19 testing Monday in Ellicottville for a large number of restaurant employees.

County health officials said on Monday that more would be known about the mini-clusters after the results of the mobile testing in Ellicottville is reported back.

Pitillo said he, his wife and the head bartender were tested Oct. 22 for COVID-19 because one of them had been a close contact of someone from another restaurant who had been quarantined due to close contact with someone with the virus. All tested negative and The Villaggio was open last weekend after the usual deep cleaning and sanitizing.

“We were not closed or asked to close,” Pitillo said.

The Villaggio is only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Also, the three had tested negative, he pointed out.

The entire restaurant is deep cleaned regularly prior to opening, and plexiglass dividers keep tables and groups at the bar separate.

Masks are required and social distancing is practiced — inside where there are 10 fewer tables, and outside, where the sidewalk is marked off to keep groups and individuals six feet apart, Pitillo said.

A “COVID cop” stationed outside keeps track of the number of people in the restaurant and alerts the staff when people with reservations arrive.

Pitillo said he spoke to employees and said anyone who wished to get tested could register for the mobile COVID- 19 testing on Monday, along with the owners and employees of other Ellicottville restaurants. Several did, and Pitillo went along and got a second test.

“We were closed for seven months,” Pitillo explained to a Times Herald reporter on Tuesday. “We reduced the number of tables. We’ve been inspected by the Health Department. I spent thousands of dollars for plexiglass dividers between tables and between groups at the bar. We’ve got two special air purifier units.”

On top of that, Pitillo said the restaurant and bar are sprayed with an antiviral solution to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on surfaces.

With 30 employees, Pitillo said he can’t afford to have customers think the restaurant wasn’t safe.

“I’m not willing to compromise the safety of my customers or my employees,” Pitillo said.

The restaurant has done everything required to safely reopen and has nothing but good marks from the Health Department, he added.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at rmiller@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)

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