After closure of grocery store, Sala San Marco owner Tony Zacconi expands the facility’s events space

Renovations are underway at events and conference centre Sala San Marco (Photo courtesy of Tony Zacconi)
Renovations are underway at events and conference centre Sala San Marco (Photo courtesy of Tony Zacconi)

After closing his Little Italy grocery store in November, Tony Zacconi is shifting gears to bring his events space back to its former glory. 

Renovations are currently underway to expand and update the ballroom of Sala San Marco, an event and conference venue located on Preston Street and owned by Zacconi. 

Since 2021, a portion of that space housed Mercato Zacconi, a grocery store that carried fresh local produce, imported specialty food and wines, and pre-made meals. It also featured a wood-fired pizza oven and in-house eating area and cafe. 

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Near the end of November 2023, Zacconi announced that the store would close after the Alcohol and Gaming Commision of Ontario (AGCO) declined to renew the store’s licence to sell alcohol, an exception granted during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Closing the grocery store really broke my heart,” Zacconi told OBJ Friday. “I really loved it. I loved helping the community like that, because there is no grocery store or anything like that around here. The community, they were in here every day. (The AGCO) shut down my alcohol sales and I just couldn’t bear it anymore. It just drove traffic right down.”

In light of the closure, Zacconi and his team have turned their focus back to the event space, removing the remnants of the store and transforming it back into a grand ballroom. 

The renovated space will total 8,000 square feet, designed to accommodate 550 guests for weddings, corporate events and other celebrations. The space can also be divided to host multiple events at once. 

“It’s very bittersweet,” he said. “Although there is a silver lining because there’s a lot of demand right now for event space.”

According to Zacconi, having the smaller meeting space while the grocery store was operating made it difficult to host large events, since there was only room for a maximum of 300 people. Now he’s excited to invite those major celebrations back in. 

“Although the corporate stuff hasn’t come back, like the government stuff especially, people are wanting to celebrate things again,” he said. “The weddings, the fundraisers, the galas and stuff like graduation parties, baptisms, all of those things are back.”

Zacconi also thinks that the construction of The Ottawa Hospital’s new Civic campus near Dow’s Lake, as well as several new residential developments, could be a boon for his enlarged space. 

“We do some events for The Ottawa Hospital now, because of the proximity – and we do have a parking lot in the back, which is hard to find downtown,” he said. “I would imagine as the hospital gets closer and it expands, there will probably be more of a need for off-site meetings, seminars, training sessions, things like that. They may require the space, so I’ll probably get a little bit of action out of that.”

In the meantime, the events space at Sala San Marco is getting a refresh, with new carpets, lighting and acoustics. A bridal suite adjacent to the ballroom will also be added. 

In a nod to the grocery store days, the ballroom will keep some elements, such as the bar and espresso machine from the cafe. With events to be catered in-house, Zacconi said the menu is also getting an update, bringing in some of the popular recipes from the store, including the focaccia. 

In April, Sala San Marco will host an open house to allow clients to preview the new space and meet local vendors. 

“Right now I’m really focusing on bringing Sala San Marco back to where it was and accommodating as many events as possible,” said Zacconi. 

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