Carrying on the cuisine

Carmelina Pizzi, self-deemed “owner in training,” carries on family traditions at Napoli Villa Italian Restaurant

Carmelina Pizzi.

As a child, Carmelina Pizzi enjoyed going into Napoli Villa Italian Restaurant and helping her mother with the work: folding napkins or doing dishes. While she and her siblings were always taught that running the family business did not have to be their choice of career, Carmelina’s path has turned back to the restaurant. As “owner-in-training,” as she calls it, she has worked alongside her mother to learn the ins and outs of the growing business for the past five years.

“It just made sense to continue the business,” she said. “I couldn’t see it changing hands to someone out of the family. I didn’t think anyone would care as much as we have. It was (a good move) for my mom and I both.”

Napoli Villa on Main Street in Beech Grove was started by Guerino and Carmela Cento in 1962. Guerino had been in the U.S. for approximately five years, having immigrated from Southern Italy. The Centos’ daughter, Antoinette Pizzi, has been sole owner since 1985.

“When my mom came on here full time, I was five years old,” Carmelina said. “She managed to get the business up and going again. It was temporarily closed. I remember five years old, going over to auction houses with her to get equipment, things we needed for the restaurant. My mom did a lot on her own. There were days in the early parts of the business where she was running everything, the only person cooking. Things are different now. I have a full staff.”

Carmelina did venture away from the family business for awhile. She attended Indiana University, earning bachelor’s degrees in merchandising, design and education with a minor in business. Her two brothers were business/finance majors, and are still the go-to people when making decisions for the family restaurant.

Carmelina and Antionette alternate which days they work at the restaurant, a situation which Carmelina said has worked out well for them both.

“Since I’ve been here, we’ve ran increases every year,” she said. “We’re busy, trying to keep up with the weekend business. Through the week, it seems more local. The weekends, we’re more of a destination place. We get a lot of customers from further away.”

That growth, Carmelina said, can be attributed to a lot of factors, but it’s primarily due to their consistent service and focus on Southern Italian cuisine, traditional foods made from recipes her grandfather used. While some new items have been added, most of the recipes have been handed down. Many things are made from scratch, including the tiramisu, cannoli, lasagna and all of Napoli’s sauces.

“We’re trying to grow the business and move forward in a direction that can grow with the demand, trying not to be stagnant,” Carmelina said. “In the next year, we’re looking at a new menu setup, revamping the wine list and cocktail menu.”

Along with progressing their own business, the Napoli owners are members of the Greater Beech Grove Chamber of Commerce and Next Stop, Beech Grove. Through that community involvement, Carmelina said she hopes to be part of the revitalization of Main Street and tries to be part of any functions those nonprofits host.

Within the business, Carmelina said she loves getting to know their customers, their lives and hear stories about Napoli’s past.

The interior of the restaurant has changed a lot since 1962. At one point, the business was conducted within three connected units. Guerino started the business where the bar currently sits. There used to be a carry-out facility. Napoli made changes in the 1990s to take that area out. They did renovation eight years ago to upgrade the flooring, cieling walls, electrical, painting and restrooms. These changes were done to brighten up the business. While it’s come a long way, Carmelina said she looks forward to continuing that family tradition and improving upon it.

“We’re a family restaurant with a lot of regular customers,” she said. “A lot of people that I consider friends come in to dine as well. They know about me and I know about them. We’re all like a family, so we’re pretty family oriented. It’s more of a team atmosphere than an individual atmosphere. We’re trying to keep up with our growing business. I like being able to work with my mom and see the growth that I’ve contributed to.”

Getting to know Carmelina…

– I have a 2 1/2 year old. My husband and I have been married for 7 years.

– I spend time with my family whenever I have free time.

– I’m a reader. I read just about anything that seems interesting. I tend to lend to more futuristic fiction, anything that takes you away from the day in and day out.

– I love decorating. With my design background, I can sew. I’ll do the curtains and stuff here.

– I’m one of those people that if I don’t know how to do something, it bothers me. So I try to self-educate. I’m always trying to learn something new.

Best advice: You have to take on one thing at a time. I’m very much a list person and see everything that needs to be done so I can get overwhelmed. So, remembering to check things off one at a time.

Worst advice: The worst advice I get on occasion, it’s more when people want to go back and do or have things that were done in the past. I’ve always been a forward thinker. Things are in the past for a reason.

Best decision: Focusing on getting a good, quality staff, making sure the people I choose can work well together. Making sure everyone understands we are a very team-focused business. I’ve always thought in the management world, I shouldn’t ask of anyone that I won’t do myself, so I’ve done everything from doing dishes to cleaning bathrooms, cook on the line, host, bartend. I expect everyone to do that same.

Secret to success: Staying true to our family recipes, trying not to deviate too much, but moving forward and getting some new things. The core of our menu is focused on Southern, comfort-food style.

In 5 years… I’d like to see the growth here on Main Street happening. I want to be part of that growth in our community. I want to see the businesses here on Main Street succeed and help anybody on Main Street any way I can. I love to see us be what the Next Stop, Beech Grove focus is, a destination for families and events, and get ourselves out there like other towns have. With that, I’m sure our business will grow.

Napoli Villa Ristorante Italiano

758 Main St.

Beech Grove, IN 46107

(317) 783-4122

napoliindy.com