Restaurant Profile: Meet a couple whose family restaurants led them to their own establishment in downtown Cherry Valley.
Perhaps it was destiny that caused Benny and Rosalie Salamone, owners of Salamone’s Italian Restaurant and Bar, to find each other.
They came from similar backgrounds. While other kids their age were going to movies or parties, Benny and Rosalie, as teenagers, were busy working at their respective family restaurants. Benny washed dishes and made pizzas in his parent’s Italian restaurant in Polo, Ill.; Rosalie served tables and worked in the kitchen with her family in Evansville, Wis. Her family still operates an Italian restaurant there called Romano’s Pizzeria and Lounge.
“This business is in our blood,” says Benny. “We’re successful today because of our upbringing, without a doubt. It was our parents who taught each of us the importance of having a strong work ethic.”
In 1999, shortly after they became engaged, it surprised no one when Benny and Rosalie announced they would be opening their own restaurant. Salamone’s Italian Restaurant and Bar started as a small carry-out pizza establishment in downtown Cherry Valley. In 2006, it moved down the street to 103 S. Cherry St., where the couple remodeled a small ice cream shop, while continuing carry-out and delivery. Two years later, the couple transformed the outside of the building and expanded their business. Today, the restaurant offers dine-in, carry-out and delivery service, as well as catered events, from golf outings to graduations.
The Salamones worked hard to make sure their restaurant facade fit in well with surrounding businesses along Cherry Valley’s downtown corridor. First, they remodeled the exterior, incorporating brick and hunter green. Inside, they built a 70-seat dining room and added a cozy bar area, with five televisions, that holds about 70 more. “It’s a warm and inviting place, whether you’re a couple celebrating an anniversary, or a family going out for a casual dinner,” Rosalie says.
Salamone’s is a family affair. Benny’s twin brother, Phil, is the manager, and their mother, Nina, helps out in the kitchen. Occasionally they even receive advice on certain dishes from Rosalie’s aunt, who owns an eatery in Sicily, Italy. The Salamones hope that their three young children – Nina, 6, Philip, 4, and Adriana, 2 – will join the business one day. “We all work very well together,” Benny says. “It takes teamwork to make sure everything from A to Z is covered.”
As one might expect, Salamone’s is best known for its pizza and pasta. It’s also developed a reputation for its appetizers, such as stuffed mushrooms and the Bobby D shrimp, named after a loyal customer who stops in every day. Calzones, Italian beef sandwiches and the New York Strip also are popular menu choices, along with Nina’s homemade cannelloni and eggplant parmigiana. “Make sure to arrive hungry,” Rosalie advises. “We serve large portions.”
The Salamones make their own meatballs and sauces. “Early on, we couldn’t decide – do we use his family’s sauce recipe or my family’s?” Rosalie says. “We decided to combine them and come up with our own. What separates our restaurant from others is that our recipes are handed down from our parents and grandparents. We look at it like our family is feeding your family.”
Salamone’s draws customers from throughout the area. “People feel comfortable coming in dressed in a suit, or just getting off work from a construction job,” Benny says. “They just feel good being here.”
Salamone’s is open at 11 a.m., Wednesday through Saturday; it opens for dinner at 4 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday. ❚