For Mathew and Kelly Calandro, it's all about family and always has been. The Shelton couple opened Verace Pizzeria, Market & Italian Eatery earlier this year with the goal of providing customers with authentic Italian-American cuisine in a comfortable atmosphere.
"We want them to feel that this is an extension of their family, a place where you can come for Sunday dinner with the whole family like we used to have with ours," Kelly said. "We try to make it relaxed and comfortable for everybody so that you can bring the kids but also have a date nite if you wanted."
The restaurant, which officially opened February 1, is much more than that. In addition to its dining area, Verace also has a deli stocked with ready-to-slice fresh meats and cheeses, and a small market offering specialty grocery items. You can pop in for a slice of pizza or order catering for a private party.
Mathew Calandro was practically born into the restaurant business. Growing up, his father owned two Shelton establishments: Huntington House (now Plaza Diner) and Pierpont Tavern (now Amici's). Calandro even wrote his college thesis on why restaurants fail, and after working in the corporate world for more than a decade he decided "now is the time" to continue the family legacy by opening Verace.
"That was basically my school, from age seven to 22," Calandro said of the years spent watching his father work at Peirpont Tavern. "But it's a whole different animal when you're the owner."
He says his father had a vision since the early 1980s of seeing downtown Shelton be rehabilitated into a vibrant hub for small business owners.
"Its been a passion of his and now it's mine, too. This area has incredible potential. If we get some of the parking and traffic issues squared away, downtown could really be booming."
Calandro and his wife spent 13 months remodeling the 100 Center St. building and they admit the experience has been both fun and frustrating.
"We've stumbled at times for sure in the first few weeks. One of the biggest challenges has been letting people know we are here and who we are. Customers are blown away when they come in and see that we have this big dining area. We're really looking to establish the brand," he said.
The word "verace" translates in English to "truthful," and so, fittingly, the Calandro's strive for authenticity in all their menu options, from soups and salads to pastas and pizzas.
"A lot of Italian restaurants out there claim to sell authentic food but I beg to differ. This is an alternative option to the tons of chain restaurants around here. We've got the atmosphere, family-style specials, we make our own salads, breads and mozzarella," Calandro said.
And he added that so far, customers have taken note of those extra efforts.
"Feedback has been great. Customers love the menu and the style. The family specials work well with parties of four or more."
The couple said bestsellers are chicken and eggplant parmagiana, as well as the eggplant rollatini. Specials are offered on the weekends to "mix it up." Recently they served a zuppa di pesce (fish soup) with clams, shrimp and monkfish. Kelly said her personal favorite menu items are the pasta dishes.
"I love the comfort foods, like a big plate of spaghetti with meatballs or pasta with vodka or bolognese sauce," she said.
Though Verace has only been open for a few months, expansion plans are already in the works. The Calandro's are looking to create a lunch menu as well as gluten-free options and healthier salads. In addition, they are working with the city to set up an outdoor patio in hopes of also offering a summer menu and summer hours.
Calandro said another goal going forward is to work with neighboring restaurants in organizing community events so that both business owners and residents can enjoy the best Shelton has to offer.
"We are really trying to support the local businesses and work together as a team," he said. "Other than that, we ultimately just want to live up to our name and provide customers with exceptional food at reasonable prices."
Verace is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., with an extended hour to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. To view their menu and get updates, check out their website: www.VeraceShelton.com