Glen McCauley had the chance to go to the most prestigious culinary school in America. Instead, he chose instead to work for a man who promised to teach him everything he needed to know about the restaurant business, allowing McCauley to draw a paycheck while learning his trade.

The hands-on training has served him well.

A “pizza man” since his early teens, McCauley took a job at La PizzaTega in Linwood, a restaurant that was named by a previous owner. McCauley’s job lasted three days before he realized the business was in trouble.

“We worked 12 or 13 hours each day and when you don’t have any business, those days are long,” McCauley says. Opting for a job as a pizza man at Mama Mia’s in Seaville, McCauley worked exactly one year until he heard from a former co-worker that La PizzaTega was up for sale.

Two weeks later, McCauley, cash in hand, became the proud owner of his own business — that was back in May 1992.

“I didn’t have the money to change the name, I didn’t have the money to change the sign, so we just went with it,”McCauley says.

What McCauley did change immediately was the quality of the food. Now in its 21st year, he is looking to expand once again.

“We are very, very successful, because we provide quality, consistency, and value,” McCauley says. That’s a formula he learned from his mentor that he has never forgotten about along his chosen path.

McCauley says he learned from master chefs but not the ones that came from a school. His teachers learned on the job how to get things done.

McCauley is the same way, spending much of the time in his restaurant making sure each dish is done the way McCauley was taught to make it.

“All my role models were the hard-working guys that never missed a day,” says McCauley, who has never missed a day of work since he bought the restaurant.

His philosophy, like the Italian specialties he creates, is a simple one. He doesn’t charge the big prices that other restaurants do for the high-quality food he serves.

McCauley believes that is why so many restaurants that open in Linwood tend to fail — they charge too much for what they have to offer the community.

McCauley sees his customers come in two or three times a week, sometimes for lunch, sometimes for dinner. His extensive menu allows the kids to have the mozzarella sticks they want, and the parents a filet mignon or even a vegetarian entree if they choose.

“We want to be able to cook for everybody, all the time,” says McCauley.

With strong ties to the community, McCauley — who lives 100 yards away from his restaurant — has expansion plans to purchase the property next door, not to move his brand to another city or state.

A few years back, McCauley expanded his operation to the property to his left —this time, he is expanding to the right (see sidebar). The new addition should be in operation by Thanksgiving, bringing the restaurant to a total of 120 seats.

Always concerned about quality, McCauley doesn’t use the marinated or injected beef in his steak sandwiches and claims to be one of the few restaurants offering the muffuletta, served on toasted French bread, with salami, capicola, provolone, mortadella and an olive tapenade dressing.

“With a little taste of garlic and olive oil on the toast,” says McCauley.

McCauley uses all homemade pasta for his involtini items. All lasagna, eggplant lasagna, vegetable lasagna, meat and cheese lasagna are all homemade, handmade in their kitchen.

Veal ($16.99) and chicken Francaise ($15.99) are among the many big selling entree selections, sauteed and served with a lemon, white wine, and butter sauce.

“We also do a stuffed eggplant Francaise with crabmeat, shrimp, mozzarella, and spinach, that is unbelievable,” says McCauley.

When McCauley’s customers order a steak, the portion is cut to order from the tenderloin. Fresh fish such as sea bass or flounder is always available, too.

When it comes to pizza, McCauley takes the traditional route, still using a gas-fired deck oven with natural stone. Low and slow is the way that gives the dough the time to rise in the oven, dry out and crisp up.

“The wood-fired and the cook-it-in-four-minutes pizza is not all it’s cracked up to be,” McCauley says.

La PizzaTega plans expansion

La PizzaTega Owner Glen McCauley is planning a third section of the restaurant’s expansion. Joey’s Burgers, Shakes, and Smiles, named by McCauley’s son Joey, will offer a concept within a successful concept.

The idea is to provide great burgers to an area that McCauley believes is in great need of a superior product.

“There are not really any good burgers around,” McCauley says.

In the process of being designated a certified Angus beef distributor, McCauley already uses the high-quality beef for the burgers on his menu. He also searched for a great-tasting brioche roll and a honey wheat bun to cradle the special beef.

The separate burger menu will be incorporated into the menu of La PizzaTega, with 10 to 12 choices including the Angus beef burgers, a turkey burger, a vegan and a vegetarian burger. Gourmet burgers will include a pizza burger and a spinach pesto burger.

McCauley has been running his burgers as specials at lunch, and his customers are loving them.

"I think it’s going to be a big hit," says McCauley.

Expect to see hand-cut shoestring french fries and homemade shakes made with real ice cream by the end of November.