BELLWOOD - Even though she passed away 10 years ago at the age of 92, David Veneziale can still hear his Italian grandmother telling people they weren't leaving her house without having something to eat first.
"I can hear her voice to this day,'' said Veneziale, who grew up in northern Blair County but moved in with his grandmother in Philadelphia when he was 18 because he couldn't find a job locally.
"She treated everyone like family. Anyone who came to the house had to sit down and have something to eat before she let them leave,'' he said.
Mirror photos by Gary M. Baranec
Helen Johnson, a waitress at the restaurant for the apst 13 years, serves Harry and Chris Smith of Tipton. They dine there every Friday night.
Veneziale now recreates many of his grandmother's recipes in the restaurant he and his father, Lee, opened 13 years ago in Bellwood that bears their family name.
Veneziale's Restaurant specializes in homemade Italian wedding soup made with meatballs David makes from scratch.
There's also homemade sausage prepared just like Lee, a former Westvaco manager in Tyrone, has been making ever since David and his sister, Kathy Keagy, were kids.
Behind the plates
Address: Route 220, Bellwood
Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, Closed Monday. Take-outs available.
Price range: $3.75 to $16.95
Specialties and popular dishes: Homemade Italian wedding soup, sausage and desserts; prime rib and seafood
Kathy, who helps out at the restaurant, too, makes the desserts, including carrot cake and pies like blueberry, raspberry and cherry crumb.
The combination of a friendly atmosphere and good, homemade food keep a lot of customers coming back on a regular basis, Kathy said.
"There are definitely certain people who come in two to three times a week,'' she said.
Kathy and David said their father had wanted to open a restaurant for several years.
The building, at the corner of the Route 220 intersection in Bellwood across from the Sheetz, was once a gun shop, David said. It later became headquarters for New Enterprise Stone & Lime Co. when Interstate 99 was under construction.
David did the remodeling work himself, adding on bathrooms and the kitchen. He previously worked in construction in Philadelphia.
He does a lot of the cooking too, relying on the memories of watching his grandmother in her kitchen. Moving in with her as a young man, he remembers that no one went out to dinner much in those days, usually eating at home.
He said he tries to foster that same sense of family and friendliness in his own restaurant, by getting to know his customers and making them feel welcome.
"You should treat them like they're one of the family,'' David said. "We're not a franchise, not a big place. I've met a lot of people here and gotten to know them.''
The restaurant offers a wide variety of items, from American classics such as prime rib and stuffed pork chops, to many popular seafood dishes including crab cakes and beer batter-fried or baked haddock.
Of course, they also serve Italian entrees such as a variety of pasta and meat selections, along with soups, salads and subs for lighter appetites. Veneziale's is open for both lunch and dinner.
Lee isn't able to come into the restaurant as much as he was when it first opened, but his children continue to oversee the daily operations and staff, including people like longtime waitress Helen Johnson, who has worked there from the beginning.
Johnson, who has worked at several area restaurants including the Bull Pen and the Villa in Tyrone, said she thinks people like the cozy atmosphere at Veneziale's, and also the great food.
"I think they like the small, personal touch they get here,'' she said. "This isn't the fast-paced, in-and-out place you come to where you get your food and you're out of here in a minute.''
Johnson said she also likes working for a family-owned business, run by people like David and Kathy, which she said is a good environment not just for customers but for the staff.
"We have each other's backs here,'' she said. "It's just a really nice place to work.''
Customers seem to enjoy coming back time after time, too.
Beth Love, who lives in Altoona but works in Tipton, stops in for lunch just about every other week at least, she said.
"The food is always fresh,'' Love said. "And it's close to come for lunch.''