There are multiple meanings behind the word "family" in the name of Nicoletta's Family Restaurant.
It not only describes the atmosphere customers feel when they walk in the door, or the bond formed by the long-time staff of servers and cooks. Family is the basis on which Nicoletta Recchia, an Italian immigrant who came to the United States when she was just 19 years old, built her life, and the values by which she runs her business.
If you stop by the restaurant, you will probably see a member of Recchia's immediate family. Her daughter, Maria, helps open for the breakfast crowd every morning and her other daughter, Antonella, helps with the business side.
But if you give her a few minutes of your time, or order off her menu of homemade Italian dishes, it won't be long before you start to feel like a part of Recchia's family, too.
"All of the recipes come from our own family tradition," she said."We follow our tradition and we work hard."
That tradition certainly comes out in the food.
Behind the Plates
Nicoletta's Family Restaurant
Address: 1700 Eighth Ave., Altoona
Hours: 6 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday.
Specialties: breakfast menu, pasta and fried stromboli
Seating capacity: 175, with additional 150-capacity banquet room area.
Reservations: Not required
Recchia took over the establishment on the corner of Eighth Avenue and 17th Street three years ago. She and her husband, Antonio, have been in the restaurant business for more than 30 years, and own Dino's Pizza, located on the lower level of the Logan Valley Mall in Altoona.
The building used to be home to the Waffle King, and a breakfast crowd has carried over - now coming in for a variety of breakfast specials, omelets and Belgian waffles.
Much of the staff from the Waffle King also accepted Recchia's offer to continue working there, including lead waitress Shannon Vipond, who said the new breakfast menu has also brought in a different group of regulars.
"Since she's taken over, there's so many new faces," Vipond said, adding that many customers who come in say the food is better and the prices are cheaper. "I think a lot of it has been word of mouth. Most of the feedback we get has been 'Oh, I heard.' They come and try it and then we see their faces again and again."
The full menu also includes everything from pizza and salads to spaghetti, manicotti and stromboli made with homemade dough and sauces. One of the specialties is a fried stromboli, which Recchia remembers eating in her hometown in coastal Italy called Mola Di Bari.
"People don't know about the fried stromboli, but they try it and they love it," Recchia said.
When it first opened, the restaurant closed at 8 p.m. to allow for a dinner crowd. But with Recchia putting in 16 hour days working from open to close and business not supporting the long hours, she was forced to scale back hours to a 3 p.m. closing time.
"I've been hit with the economy, but we hung in there," Nicoletta said. "Things are getting better. That's all I want."
The earlier hours haven't stopped people from coming in for Sunday breakfast or grabbing a slice of pizza for lunch.
Karl Pabst of Altoona says he comes in for breakfast about two times a week, and has sampled a few of the Italian dishes.
"From what I've seen, they have quite the breakfast base," he said. "For lack of a better word, it seems to be their bread and butter."
Eileen Porter of Altoona also eats at Nicoletta's about once a week. For her, it's about more than the breakfast or the "delicious" Italian food.
"We got here regularly because Nicoletta and the waitresses are so friendly and they know your name," she said. "When you go in there, it's like a family instead of just going to a restaurant to eat."
Though the business is running smoothly now, Recchia still has plans for improvement. She would like to eventually open for dinner again, as well as hire more workers and install a salad bar.
"She has big plans," said Vipond of Recchia. "She pours her heart and soul into it. She's hear every day."
But Recchia also won't let ambition get in the way of what's really important to her - family.
"All this will come in the future," she said, adding she wants the set aside time to spend with her two grandchildren and the one who's on the way. "All this will come in time after I see my family well."
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.