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It might be a year later than they expected to celebrate their first Christmas in their new place, but Brian Leith and Aron Pullen have something to ho-ho about this year:

They’ve opened Villa Castrioti in The Lake District.

“We fully expected to be celebrating Christmas 2021 here,” co-owner Leith said. “Well, that didn’t work out, but we’re here and open now.”

That’s as of Friday, anyway. The restaurant opens for dinner on Friday, Dec. 23, and will also be open for dinner Christmas Eve but will be closed Christmas Day.

The Villa Castrioti story started long before the expansion to a second restaurant. Adam and Julie Papriniku opened the Cordova restaurant in 1989. The Albanian couple moved to Memphis from New York City in the mid ’80s and opened two pizzerias, one in Hickory Ridge Mall and one Downtown. Pullen went to work for them in 1996 at the full-service restaurant in Trinity Commons.

Leith was a longtime customer, and he and Pullen became friendly.

“Around the end of 2019, Aron told me Adam and Julie wanted to sell it, and they offered it to him,” Leith said. “He asked me if I was interested, and I was. So I got some financing together for us, and we took over in February 2020.

“Well, that was great timing.”

COVID, of course, would shutter Shelby County dining rooms just weeks down the road and keep restrictions in place for more than a year to come.

“We learned a lot; learned how to do takeout, for instance,” Leith said. “That’s a big part of The Lake District.”


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