Turns out semi-retirement is not for everyone. Throwing away the alarm clock might be a win, but losing contact with customers and colleagues — not so much.

Former Armando’s Kitchen owner Armando Varlotta closed his popular Cromwell restaurant last year after a tumultuous time: an electrical fire destroyed the kitchen in 2017, he was disappointed with what the landlords would rebuild, waited 13 months to reopen — and then Covid swept the country.

It all created huge stress and Mr Varlotta stepped back from full-on hospitality to travel and then work a couple of days a week at Carrick Wines cellar door.

However, he missed the people, especially the regular customers with whom he had built a rapport, and cooking, he said.

‘‘Over the winter I got a little bit bored. I missed the interaction with people.’’

At Armando’s he had made a lot friends. It was a place where people came together.

His newest venture, La Bottega, in Ripponvale Rd, near Cromwell, opened late last month. He has two business partners — colleague Wendy Denholm and Chris Kimm, who owns the building the shop is in.

Owners of new Cromwell business La Bogetta, from left, Chris Kimm, Armando Varlotta and Wendy Denholm enjoying meeting with former restaurant customers and newcomers at their food store which features Central Otago products along with special items imported from Italy and other parts of Europe.

The former Ritchie’s Gully General Store had been closed for some time and Mr Varlotta, who lives close by, watched it deteriorate and thought he could do something with it.

He opted for an upscale deli unlike anything in the area, where they sold ready meals, fresh pasta and sauces all made by Mr Varlotta in a commercial kitchen across the road from the shop.

Gnocchi, a much-loved signature dish at Armando’s, would be available once again, as well as pizza bases, which he had been making for Carrick Wines.

There were also imported Italian meats and cheeses, gloriously colourful dried pasta and oils sitting alongside the best of local preserves, honey and sweet treats.

‘‘Having this place, it brings people together. It’s nice to interact with people again . . . the fact was, cooking was a big part of my life and to be able to do that again, in a less stressful way, is definitely a bonus.’’

The business is open Thursdays to Sundays. They other days they prepared the food, he said.

Everything in the shop was special and not available elsewhere in the area.

With glorious wallpaper and intriguing displays, the atmosphere was on the glamorous side.

The space would be available to hire, Mr Varlotta said.