First Look

A First Look at Olivero

By: Amber Chase

After two years of envisioning his return to Wilmington, North Carolina, Sunny Gerhart will open his restaurant, Olivero, today, September 6.

Sunny Gerhart and Lauren Krall Ivey, executive chefs at Olivero

There’s a relaxed, worn-in familiarity to Olivero where the space simultaneously houses culinary prowess and comfort. Gerhart says he wants Olivero to be “a spot where the lights are a little low and the music’s a little loud; a place where you can participate in a curated multi-course meal, but also come on a night where you just want a big bowl of pasta and a martini.” The interior is inviting yet modern, with baroque silverware strewn across booth tables, barstools from Gerhart’s own home, and grunge black and white photographs hung along the walls. Olivero takes the concept of “open kitchen” to new heights by hosting seats a mere three feet from their wood fired grill.

Reflecting on his most memorable and comfortable nights dining out, Gerhart recalls red-and-white-checkered tablecloths topped with round bowls of stuffed shells and hands criss-crossing over small plates. Ignited by a vision for what the long vacant space within a 1940s building could become, he and Furbish designer, Jamie Meares, designed from the ground up, visualizing a space that would hone Spanish and Italian cultures with a (hearty) nod to New Orleans influence. From playful wallpaper to vibrant lighting, details that might have felt miniscule during the process now shine through as monumental decisions. It’s Gerhart’s hope that Olivero will be a centralized space for memories to be formed, whether casual or celebratory.

A bowl of pasta at Olivero

The concept for Olivero is a tribute to Gerhart’s family history. The name comes from his mother’s maiden name, and he credits the melding of culinary cultures throughout generations as the inspiration for his menu, pulling from Spain, Sicily, and New Orleans. A big spark for the concept began with Gerhart leaning into handmade pastas, a therapeutic, hands-on practice that quickly enraptured him. After the passing of his father, Gerhart wanted to create a space honoring his diverse lineage and explore his own connections to the places his family originated.

Gerhart studied traditional Italian concepts, which helped inspire pathways for new dishes to emerge. He worked alongside Lauren Krall Ivey, his co-executive chef, to formulate a menu that is distinctly innovative, yet reminiscent of Italian culinary traditions.The two share a history of cooking together, dating back nearly 15 years when they worked together at Poole’s Diner in Raleigh. Olivero is their first time collaborating on a menu. Before they started, Ivey and Gerhart took a trip to New York for inspiration. On the inbound flight, the first food they shared together were Biscoff cookies, Ivey’s favorite reason to fly. The Biscoff cookies launched them into a full-blown quest to incorporate that nostalgic flavor into a dish. The result: house-made Speculoos caramel corn popped onto a lush panna cotta with a bright berry compote. Another standout dish on Olivero’s opening menu is the octopus lasagna, boasting sheets of lasagna laced with whipped ricotta, fragrant chorizo, and octopus bolognese.

The genesis of certain dishes can also be stumbled upon. When working with pork shoulder, Gerhart and Ivey decided to integrate braised sweetbreads and mix together a vinaigrette of chile flakes, oregano, and red wine vinegar. This gave the pork a “pizza effect,” and people couldn’t stop eating it. Needless to say, the pizza pork shoulder found its way onto the menu. Similar intersections of familiar flavors and bold preparations play out across the entire opening menu, making Olivero a place approachable for all palates.

Basque cheesecake and martinis

As they open, Gerhart is incredibly grateful for the staff that has seamlessly come together before launching. “Building a team that is knowledgeable, educated, and passionate creates dynamic hospitality,” notes Gerhart. Olivero’s staff takes it one step further, forming personal connections to the menu and sharing the history as if it were their own. When both story and vision are propelled by each team member, guests are invited not to spectate, but to participate.

Now accepting reservations

Olivero Menu

Download Olivero’s Opening Menu

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