My name is Gino Reale and this is a brief glimpse of how our family got started in the restaurant business. My father, Bob Reale, a native New York city boy, who started this business with no money, a lot of "gouliuns", four kids and the greatest partner life has to offer, his Bride. In 1981 as a young Italian family, we were told by my father, "aay, dis tings gonna work, but you gotta be ready to eat stones to get it goin." Personally at the time, I didn't understand the concept of consuming stones, sweating blood or giving a pound of flesh, but I figured what the hell, I'm fifteen, he's my father, and it had to be better than taking a back hand to the head. Looking back now, it was definitely worth while, and one of many, as my father puts it, "Character Builders." I can now say it has been my privilege to have eaten stones with my family and I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
I now share these same images with my son Dominic who is looking forward to the great opportunity of taking in a stone or two while my daughter Brianna of four years is busy busting them. Now when we stared we didn't know much about opening a restaurant, so we enlisted the services of my mom's uncle Mike who had his own pizzeria up state. Every Italian family has at least one uncle Mike. You know, the guy that speaks broken English with a story to tell about everything that ends with an Italian phrase that makes absolutely no sense in English.
So with my father's business sense, my mother's family recipes, employees that can't call in sick, (my brothers and sister) and the "Inspiration of Desperation," as my dad puts it, we took a deep breath and proceeded to open doors. The first day we had no menu's, no marquee and no idea we would be that busy. My sister Rena was the waitress, my brothers Sal and Jimmy were the pizza men, my mom was the chef, my dad was the promoter and I was the dishwasher. What a plan if your cooking for a few families, however, we had a packed house including all the high school kids from Westwood. It was crazy! Around noon I got called down to the office at my school for a phone call. It was my brother Sal speaking "Brooklyneese" and he was saying something about needing to get my *!#?@...over there. When I got there the place was packed. My sister was taking orders. My mom was crying and asking, "what do we charge for this or that." My dad was just laughing and asking the customers, "Well, what do you think you should pay for that?" I think we put in 22 hours that day and then began the next. We learned a lot and choked on several stones that first night.
We were the typical Italian family. My brother Jimmy and I had fun and joked around all the time, while my brother Sal, being the oldest brother, was always so serious. I love my brothers, but as with all brothers we had our moments. At fifteen, I just could not understand why we couldn't play Van Halen's music during the lunch rush. Sal would have a fit, and during the heat of the rush we would fight from one end of the pizzeria to the other. The customer's didn't seem to mind. Needless to say, I now have a true appreciation for Jerry Vale and Frank Sinatra. It's all part of the growth process of a true Italian family business. You know, I never realized how hard we worked back then; I thought everybody put in 100 hour work weeks.
Now, I have to introduce you to the heart and soul of our business. My father calls her "the Guerrilla" because she is the hardest working member of our family. This woman has done it all. She is my mother, Marie Reale. My father calls her "St. Marie" because being a good Italian Catholic she's the one who kept us all in line. As my dad puts it she is CHIEF COOK AND BOTTLE WASHER. If you have not had the pleasure of meeting my mother, she is a cute, petite lady with a heart of gold.
My dad is famous for his colorful sayings, as he puts it, "if you wanna be boss, you gotta be da hawse." In that case, we've all done great at being Clydesdales. As far as being boss, well, we're still working on who that one is. I'm very proud of the success of this business, but I feel I must say that it did not come easy. We spent a lot of time working and living together back then. We each had our tense moments, but we worked out our differences the way all Italian families do, we get loud. Now the winner of this contest is the one who displays the most hand gestures while using as many four letter words in the shortest amount of time possible. Being the youngest, I usually lost that battle.
God bless our customers, especially in those early years. Most of these people we have known for 20 years, and have since become our best friends. Hell, they're family. There were many nights we were short handed and a customer would be in the back without asking and start washing the dishes to help us out. I treasure the times we had and the times to come. Our customers have been our sole marketing concept. It was not uncommon to have a customer at a table ask another customer at the table next to them what they were eating and within seconds someone cuts off a piece of their veal parmigian and shares it with them. Before you know it, their tables were pulled together and they were breaking bread. Many friendships began at our restaurant and are still going strong to this day.
We went from having the Pizzeria in 1981, to the Italian Restaurant in 1985, to the Top Hat in 1986. We took a temporary leave of absence from 1988 - 1994. A unique opportunity came about in 1994, and my mother and father opened a small deli in the Prominent Point office building. It was through a few more years, a couple of pounds of flesh, a bag of stones and enough O positive sweat to handle Brackenridge on a holiday weekend that was the ground work laid to open Reale's Pizza & Cafe. Through all those years we have found that the common denominator for success has always been on thing, THE FAMILY. You know I didn't realize how many people look at us when we work and they see my brother give me a kiss on the cheek or my father with a big hug for all of us. When you come in there is a good chance you will see one of the Reales kissing somebody. Watch out 'cause you might be next! My mom always says, we got a lot of love, and love is what we put into everything we do. I have learned that the moral success of this whole story has not been the success of the business, but the love of our family.
You must know that this story is only the tip of the iceberg, however, if you're a regular customer you have probably heard one or two stories that my dad tells. He's pretty open about things especially when he's had a Sambucca or two.