CHESTER-Everything at Roma's Pizzeria is made to order. Everything, that is, but the spaghetti sauce, which Tony Paletta won't compromise on.
"I won't let them serve it unless it's cooked for six to eight hours," Paletta said. "It's my grandmother's spaghetti sauce, and it's probably the closest thing you'll find to southern Italian red sauce outside of southern Italy."
Under Paletta's ownership, the transition of Roma's from pizza shop to Italian restaurant is complete.
Roma’s Pizzeria owner Tony Paletta at the front counter. (Photo by Stephen Huba)
"We have a lot more than pizza, but a lot of people don't realize that," he said, noting that about 45 percent of the menu is pizza or "pizza related."
Paletta, 32, of Morgantown, W.Va., became majority owner of Roma's, with his wife, Erin, and brother, Rich, in December 2011, buying it from Mark Tetrault. Founded by Jeff Davis in the 1980s, the restaurant is now on its fourth owner at its location on state Route 8 in Hancock County.
Paletta closed the downtown Chester location in August. "It didn't do the business I wanted it to," he said.
Paletta grew up in Chester and graduated from Oak Glen High School in 1998. He went on to get his master's in chemical engineering from West Virginia University, never knowing that he'd own a restaurant one day.
"This is just my hobby," he said, smiling.
By day, Paletta is strategic account manager for Scientech, a provider of specialty instruments and hardware to nuclear power plants. On the weekends, he manages the restaurant and spends time with family in Hancock County.
Paletta jokes that he bought Roma's as an early Christmas present for his wife, Erin, an East Liverpool native. Although he doesn't take himself too seriously, he is serious about the restaurant and its role in the community.
Soon after assuming ownership, Paletta instituted "10% Thursday," a fundraising opportunity for local organizations. Groups that sign up to be included receive 10 percent of the earnings on their Thursday. Since May, "10% Thursday" has raised about $3,000 toward worthy causes and individuals, Paletta said.
"I wanted to have a day where we could bring everybody together," he said. "It's a way for people in the community to help each other. A lot of people will wait until Thursday to come in."
On the food side, Paletta said the biggest changes include expanding on Tetrault's pasta dishes, introducing Italian pastries, using all fresh ingredients-no frozen french fries or chicken-and insisting on his paternal grandmother's red sauce recipe. "It's sweeter and smoother than other sauces," he said.
Paletta said some of his fondest childhood memories are of enjoying the cooking of his grandmother, Virginia Paletta, who lived in Clarksburg, W.Va. Whenever she baked bread, he knew he'd also get a tasty Italian pastry known as fritti.
"I used to wake up to them. I've been cooking since I was 'this' tall," he said, gesturing with his hand. "I learned a lot from my grandmother."
Paletta now serves fritti at Roma's. He's also thinking about introducing an Italian dumpling known as gnocchi and a cooked dish known as polenta.
Paletta's wings recently won second place at the Backyard Wings Brews and BBQ Cookoff, sponsored by the Ronald McDonald House in Morgantown. The garlic parmesan and chipotle BBQ wings took second place in the judges' competition and the people's choice competition, he said.
Roma's is open 3-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 3-10 p.m. Friday, noon-10 p.m. Saturday and noon-9:30 p.m. Sunday. For carryout orders, call 304-387-2770.