MATAWAN – To restaurant owner Anthony Spatola, personal touch is the difference between an average Italian restaurant and an upscale one.
Spatola, chef and owner of Bella Sera restaurant, prefers not to remain in the kitchen of his borough restaurant at all times. Spatola, a Freehold resident, gets out in the dining section and finds out what his customers like.
"I give my customer a lot of personal attention," he said. "I go to the tables and ask them what kind of food they like."
He then prepares food to his customers’ wishes.
"I go to every table and I ask them if there’s something (they want) they don’t see on the menu," he said.
Sometimes he offers suggestions.
Some customers come in and don’t ask for menus, he said.
They will leave it up to Spatola to create a dish for them.
Spatola gets to know his customers when they come in, and they ask for him when returning, he said.
The business has been opened since May 1, and since then, it has been crowded and feedback has been positive, Spatola said.
He promoted the restaurant, which serves lunch and dinner, through word of mouth.
"We do catering too," Spatola said.
A variety of antipastos, soups, salads and main dishes are offered.
Dinners include pasta, chicken, sea food, veal, pork chops and fish.
Lunch includes a variety of salads, wraps, sandwiches, appetizers and entrees. Cookies and deserts are also offered.
Food quality also sets Bella Sera apart from other area restaurants, Spatola said.
"I only use the best of everything," he said.
The menu is chosen from Spatola’s recipes, developed from his years working as a chef.
Daily lunch and dinner specials are offered and change about every three days.
The specials are created by Spatola and his two other chefs. Those decisions are mostly based on what customers like, Spatola said.
Since many customers like fresh fish, Spatola will bring in different types, he said. These have included red snapper, sea bass and tuna.
The most popular dish at the restaurant is balsamic chicken, Spatola said.
Spatola previously owned a restaurant in Woodbridge for 33 years, one in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, New York, and another New York restaurant.
Owning a restaurant in Matawan is slower-paced than owning one in New York, Spatola said.
"In New York, they’re always on the run," he said. "(People ask) how fast can you make this, how fast can you make that?" He has worked in the food business for over 40 years.
Spatola was born in Italy and moved to Cleveland, Ohio, when he was 9. From there he moved to Brooklyn.
Matawan was chosen as a location after Spatola’s visits to the restaurant when it was operated by a previous owner.
Spatola took the opportunity to open his restaurant there, when he heard the prior owner was looking to sell.
"I used to come here with my friends," Spatola said. "We used to drink coffee and espressos. I started talking to the owner and realized I wanted to get back into the restaurant business. We made a deal and I’m here."
The location draws many customers from Monmouth County, Spatola said.
"We get a lot of customers from Colts Neck and Holmdel," he said.
Out-of-area customers have told Spatola they travel to his restaurant because it’s more upscale than standard Italian restaurants, he said.
The customer base is mostly adults, he said. People are what Spatola enjoys most about the job.
"When I see the look on their faces and they tell me I’ve never had anything like this, this is so delicious — that’s the biggest satisfaction anybody can get," he said.
The restaurant is located at 1070 Route 34, Matawan with hours 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and Sundays from 4 to 10 p.m.