When you walk into Raphael's Steakhouse you can immediately tell it is not your ordinary restaurant.
The interior, designed and finished by Altoona artist John Rita, features a large mural of the Three Graces - the hallmark of Italian renaissance artist Raphael - on the back wall of the dining room.
"It is kind of like a fantasy on Roman ruins. It is a glimpse into the past based on a lot of experiences I have had," Rita said. "We wanted you to not be on Plank Road but be somewhere else when you are in there."
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunsk
The exterior of Raphael's Steakhouse in Altoona.
"We tried to bring a piece of Europe here, to bring something different to Altoona," said Moe Tawfik, a partner in the business with Steve Minnigh and Steve's wife, Cindy Sanders.
Raphael's opened in March at 3312 Pleasant Valley Blvd.
"We have had excellent response from the community and support has exceeded our expectations. We have had a lot of out-of-town customers, people from New York and the big cities," Tawfik said. "I would say we are at about 70 percent efficiency; in this business that is usually achieved in two years."
Address: 3312 Pleasant Valley Blvd., Altoona
Hours of operation: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
Dress mode: Casual
Alcohol: A full bar including beer, wine, liquor and specialty martinis
Price range: $6.99 to $27.99
Specialties: Steaks and prime rib
Seating: 100, including outside patio
Tawfik said he and his partners did a lot of studying before deciding to open Raphael's.
"We had a good business plan and a lot of experience. Steve (manager of Ansley RV, Duncansville) has many years of business experience and I have over 25 years in the restaurant business," Tawfik said.
"We designed something to fit a prime location and a concept that would work in the community."
Raphael's, which also features a full martini bar with tapas - bite size appetizers - and an exclusive wine list, offers guests "fine dining with white tablecloths" and employs two executive chefs, a sous chef and a professional bartender.
Steaks and slow-roasted prime rib are the best selling entrees. The average entree price is about $20. The lunch menu starts at $6.99 and features homemade soups.
"We hand carve our steaks every day; steaks are the core of our menu. They are enhanced with traditional American specialties and a lot of French and German specialties to create a nice variety," Tawfik said.
The menu is enhanced every four or five months based on the season, Tawfik said.
Special dishes include steak au poivre, steak diane and wiener schnitzel viennese.
"We have an atmosphere and quality of food you can find nowhere else in Altoona," Tawfik said.
Raphael's is a hit with Bob Topper, chief operating officer of The Summit Tennis and Athletic Club.
"I really love the atmosphere and the new decor. The staff, especially Moe and Justin (Straesser, a server) are extremely friendly," Topper said.
"The lemon cello frozen dessert is by far my favorite."
Local ownership gives Raphael's an advantage over the numerous franchise restaurants, Tawfik said.
"Local ownership gives us the freedom of creativity and we can offer more to the guests without the guidelines of the franchise," Tawfik said. "Our customers are not numbers, they are our guests."
Raphael's - which also has an outdoor patio - has seating for about 100. Reservations are accepted and are recommended on weekends. Diners can enjoy live entertainment Friday and Saturday evenings.
"We want to be a landmark in Altoona," Tawfik said.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.