Rick Romanelli, 54, is a special type of restaurateur. He is the only one in his family involved in Romanelli's Garden Cafe in Galloway and Romanelli's on the Green in Linwood.
That doesn't mean there isn't plenty of family all around him.
"My employees are like family," Romanelli says.
His restaurant in Linwood has been open for more than 30 years and turnover of employees has never been a problem.
He doesn't seem at all surprised about what keeps his two popular restaurants on track.
"I am very fortunate. Romanelli's would be nowhere without the staff that I have," Romanelli says.
Both of his restaurants offer a great product, and smart customers appreciate the quality.
Romanelli installed new granite vanity tops in all the bathrooms at the Galloway location just this month, something that didn't need to be done. The Formica counters already in place would have lasted for quite a while longer.
They just didn't provide Romanelli with the exact look that he wanted for his restaurant. The fact that he "spent a fortune" on them didn't matter either.
Romanelli-style means something special when it comes to food and decor.
His approach to the restaurant business is why he has been successful at it for so long.
In the business since his first job at 14, working for the Noyes family in Smithville at their commissary, he learned enough about cooking, baking and running a restaurant to venture out on his own. At 19, he bought his first business.
Romanelli never looked back.
And while the economy has been trying the last six years, Romanelli says he is not going anywhere.
"After all, I've been doing it for 34 years now," he says.
If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it may also be the hardest one to get right, but Romanelli has mastered the art of breakfast cookery.
All the basics are done right, with plenty of specials to choose from each morning. Early-bird specials are available 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m Mondays to Fridays.
The breakfast menu at Galloway is almost exactly the same as Linwood. Why mess with a good thing?
Lunchtime offerings include a large selection of Romanelli-style sandwiches, burgers and salads on hand
At dinner, Romanelli has tweaked his menu a hundred times, but now has a selection that is pretty much set in stone. It's that consistency that keeps customers coming back.
The sesame-encrusted wasabi Ahi tuna ($9.99) is Romanelli's No. 1 seller, cut from sushi-grade tuna loin and served with ginger and wasabi sauce.
Eggplant stacker ($8.99) is slices of eggplant lightly dusted with flour then fried and layered with tomato, buffalo mozzarella, garnished with Romaine lettuce and a balsamic dressing drizzle, then topped with bruschetta mixture. The eggplant is hot, the cheese and tomato is cold.
Homemade, all-fresh ingredients are the selling point.
"You can taste the freshness," Romanelli says.
Another popular selection is the white cheddar orzo and shrimp cakes ($8.99) in a creamy cheddar and parmesan cheese sauce with delicately fried shrimp.
Appetizers include favorites such as Buffalo wings, chicken fingers, jalapeno poppers, mozzarella sticks with marinara sauce, quesadilla and a teaser platter ($9.99) that offers a selection of appetizers for the more adventurous customer.
Pasta is served from basic to gourmet. Choose spaghetti, angel hair, penne or linguine with your choice of "gravy" - marinara, diablo or oil and garlic - starting at $9.99 with choice of soup or salad.
Romanelli's Ciopinno ($25.99) is a homemade seafood stew of shrimp, scallops, crab claws and clams simmered in a red sauce. A whole-wheat Primavera ($13.99) is made with vegetables in a white wine, tomato and butter sauce with homemade whole-wheat fettuccini.
The latest addition is a new flatbread menu with choices including the already popular arugula flatbread, pesto chicken, and BBQ chicken with caramelized onion.
"We can make any type of flatbread that you want," Romanelli says. "Most of our food is on the healthier side."
You will find some fried standards, especially seafood, something Romanelli says you simply must have on the menu for many customers in South Jersey.
All the food at Romanelli's is homemade from scratch.
"People love our crab cakes," Romanelli says.
His are made from a mix of jumbo lump and lump crabmeat
Romanelli's also offers a gluten-free menu.
"If someone has an allergy or eats gluten-free, everything is cooked in it's own pan, so there is no crossover," Romanelli says.
Romanelli's makes 40 percent of its desserts in-house and has a pastry chef who prepares the rest.
Early birds flock to Romanelli's 3 to 6 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays for the eat-in-only bargains featured.
Served with house salad or soup, bread and dessert, everything from a burger and fries ($9.95) to lasagna with meatball ($12.95) is available. A crab cake platter ($12.95) is served with mashed potatoes and veggie du jour.
At Romanelli's, pizza dough is made fresh every day.
"We make an awesome seafood scampi pizza," says Romanelli. "That's one of our No. 1 sellers."
Composed of fresh shrimp, scallops and lump crabmeat, the pizza also has spinach, Roma tomatoes and mozzarella. The scampi sauce is served on the side, so you can dip the crust into the sauce.
Long famous for his sandwiches, Romanelli knows the secret to a good one.
"We roast our own turkey, pork and roast beef in house," Romanelli says. "People love that."
Cole slaw, dressings and long hots are prepared on premise, too.
But if it is a complete dinner you are after, Romanelli has some good advice.
"Why get a sandwich for $9 when you can get a whole dinner with soup or salad for only $14?" Romanelli says. "If you want the dinner, get the dinner."
Taking the menu overseas
Traditional Mexican Day is every Tuesday at Romanelli's. El Desayuno (breakfast) is served 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and features Huevos Mexicano ($8.50) and Huevos rancheros ($7.99). Comido (lunch) is served 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and includes fish taco ($8.99), Mexican tuna salad ($10.50) or nachos with grilled chicken ($8.99). Cena (dinner) is served 3 p.m. to close and features beef or chicken tacos ($13.99); beef or chicken burritos ($15.99); or beef, chicken or shrimp fajitas ($14.99) served with refried beans and rice.
Enjoy traditional German Day every Wednesday. Fruhstuck (breakfast) features German omelet ($8.50) or a breakfast sandwich with knockwurst and Muenster cheese on kaiser roll and home fries ($7.99). Mittagesser (lunch) includes knockwurst or bratwurst platter ($8.50), a German reuben ($8.50) or roasted pork sandwich ($8.50). Abendbrot (dinner) features weiner schnitzel ($21.95), sauerbraten ($17.95) or schnitzel Christina ($17.95).
Take a trip to Italy with Romanelli's traditional Italian Day every Thursday. Colazione (breakfast) includes an Italian omelet ($8.50) or an Italian breakfast burrito ($7.99). Pranzo (lunch) includes manicotti or stuffed shells with sweet Italian sausage ($8.50); Romanelli's Italian hoagie ($9.99); or panzanella salad ($8.99). Cena (dinner) features tortellini, red or white ($10.99); veal osso bucco ($24.99); and fruita del mare ($25.99).