LEWISTON — David Wagabaza smiled as a customer picked up a late lunch Thursday consisting of pastrami, fries and an Italian sandwich named the Nightmare.

“It’s good to see you back; it’s been a while,” the man said as he grabbed his bag. “I remember.”

After a 19-year-break, Wagabaza overhauled a condemned building on Bartlett Street and, this month, opened Vespucci’s Pizza & Sandwiches, take two.

Wagabaza first opened Vespucci’s in 1979 on Lisbon Street, quickly moved to Pine Street and, later, Sabattus Street, growing his customer base each time.

He sold the eatery in 1989 after being courted by a Portland business-owner for a year. They’d talked him into buying a convenience store down there and adding on the pizzeria.

“I didn’t want to leave, but you look at Portland as a bigger market, you’re thinking big bucks,” Wagabaza said.

Vespucci’s closed under the new owners in Lewiston six years later.

“People would say, ‘Are you thinking about coming back?’ What I found out from Lewiston people, they’re very loyal,” he said.

Eventually, the convenience store aspect became too much, he said.  “You’ve got a lot of employees, and you deal with a lot of inventory. Also, you have to figure out how to get time off for yourself.”

He sold the Portland Vespucci’s in November. His wife owns an apartment building next door to 15 Bartlett St., and Wagabaza saw the potential in the building, looking past the ripped-out pipes and big, condemning “X” on the outside.

He and a friend bought it and launched a six-month renovation. From the city, he purchased the grassy lot next door to turn into parking.

“Lewiston has changed from what it was before,” Wagabaza said. “I hope we are going through a new phase, and I think it’s going to be for the better.”

Vespucci’s menu offers 24 different Italians, from the traditional to the Rabbit Sandwich (all veggies) and the Nightmare (American cheese, Swiss, provolone, mozzarella, ham, capicola, Genoa salami and American salami.) There’s also pasta, hot sandwiches and what he’s called “comfort food”: fries, onion rings and chicken nuggets. And, of course, pizza with toppings like asparagus, garlic and salami.

Most large Italians are $4 to $7. Pizzas range from $5.50 for a 10-inch plain cheese to $35.30 for a five topping 20-inch.

Wagabaza hopes to set himself apart by making his own sandwich bread and pizza dough every day and touches like pepperoni with a little heat in it, sliced up by him.

A small front room at the new Vespucci’s has three tables and seating for six. There are light wood floors and freshly painted white walls. A sandwich board with the shop’s name sits out front while he waits for a new sign to arrive.

Re-opening has been a bit like a class reunion, Wagabaza said.

“People are coming in, ‘I’m so glad you’re back. Why did you have to leave, anyway?'” he said.

Vespucci’s is open six days a week, Wednesday to Monday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The phone number is 782-7000.

[email protected]

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