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2019 Chamber Gala Awards: Casa Antica named Lewiston Business of the Year

by jmaloni
Sat, Mar 23rd 2019 07:00 am
Everyone is family at Casa Antica in Lewiston.
Everyone is family at Casa Antica in Lewiston.

Casa Antica grows in popularity

The Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce will hold its annual Gala Awards dinner from 6-9 p.m. Thursday, May 9, at the Niagara Falls Country Club.

The event begins with a cocktail hour followed by a sit-down dinner and awards program. The chamber board of directors will then present awards to Business of the Year and Citizen of the Year honorees from the Lewiston, Youngstown, Ransomville and Sanborn communities. In addition, a silent and basket auction will take place.

Tickets are available at the Chamber of Commerce office, 895 Center St., Lewiston.

The Sentinel’s weekly awardee profiles continue this week.

•••••

By all rights and means, Casa Antica shouldn’t have worked.

Villa Fortunata’s closed on New Year’s Eve 2005, its owners determining there wasn’t enough business to generate necessary income. Lewiston is only so big – there’s only so many people – and with so many other places to eat, it just wasn’t a viable operation.

And yet, just three months later, another Italian restaurant opened … at the same location … to the same audience … in the middle of winter!

Now, if the place with the packed Niagara University Theatre dinner shows, live New York Rat Pack music, friendly hosts and generous portions couldn’t cut it, there was no way two 20-somethings were going to do any better.

There was no way this plan could work!

Right?

Well, as it turned out, Angela Soldano-Bellanca and her brother, Calogero (Charlie), weren’t “opening a restaurant.” They were just doing what came naturally to them.

“We were both born in this; sleeping on the booths,” Charlie said of younger days spent at his father’s restaurant in Tribeca (New York City).

“It’s like a natural thing,” Angela said.

“Falling asleep, being at the restaurant until 3 o’clock in the morning,” Charlie said.

“You know, naturally, you wake up; you brush your teeth. This is natural,” Angela said.

The Soldanos moved to Niagara County almost 20 years ago, with the family patriarch, Jack, heading the kitchen at Villa Fortunata’s in Lewiston. Angela was a waitress, and Charlie cooked.

When Jack parted ways with Filippo Inglima, it was, well, only natural his children would step in and take over.

The first thing Angela and Charlie did was install a full bar, placing it off the back-center wall and creating a space where people could more easily mingle. In the place where the old “bar” existed, they opened up a private dining room that also doubles as a buffet serving area.

Casa Antica was born and, slowly but steadily over the next decade, Angela, Charlie and Jack – who stayed on as both chef and handyman – would renovate the rest of the interior, reconfiguring tables and chairs and seating areas. An outdoor patio was added, and, in 2017, the family took over the adjoining underground bar (now known as the Casa Antica Lounge). New flooring recently was installed, and the family has hopes to someday add an atrium.

“For me, it’s the idea of failing. It’s not only you, you’re failing your family. So, every day you’ve got to come correct,” Charlie said. “We have love for the food. We make food with love, and hopefully it shows. We try to give the best quality ingredients that we can.”

“Food’s on my mind 24-seven,” he added. “I can’t go to sleep sometimes just thinking about, ‘What can I do? How do I improve?’ ”

“From the moment we wake up, the first ring is, ‘What are we doing tonight? Where are we going to eat?’ It’s always food-related,” Charlie said. “Food first, always.”

Calogero “Charlie” and Jack Soldano flank Angela Soldano-Bellanca. The three are shown with freshly made pasta with Sicilian anchovies, raisins, fennel, pine nuts and saffron. Ample-sized portions (think two meals on one plate) are the norm at Casa Antica. Charlie said these dishes reflect “growing up; it was the size of plates that we got at home. That’s all we’ve ever known.”

Like its name suggests, Casa Antica strives to make patrons feel like they’re at home. “We are a family restaurant,” Angela said. “Everybody’s family.”

Angela echoed that sentiment, citing “The love for the food,” as a main reason Casa Antica has succeeded. “We’re all here all the time. We take it seriously. We’re not bringing people in and saying, ‘Hey, go do our job; we’re going to have a party,’ ” Angela said.

“Our background – everything has to do with food. Everybody in our family is a good chef, good cooks. It would be absurd if we didn’t know how to do this, too,” she added.

Casa Antica is known for its authentic, from-scratch Italian dishes (including gnocchi Bolognese, rigatoni vodka, risotto with scallops and pork bracciole), as well as fresh fish specials, pizzas, antipasti and award-winning Arborio rice balls.

In fact, for as long as Jack and Charlie have cooked at 490 Center St. – nearly two decades now – the food has been above reproach.

It just took a little more time for people to notice, which is partly why Casa Antica’s predecessor struggled. But with the three Soldanos working together in lockstep – alongside Angela’s high-energy husband, Giuseppe, who bartends and is the face of the family’s festival booths – Casa Antica has grown into one of the village’s most popular restaurants.

It was recently named Business of the Year by the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce.

While the family members said they consider this award an honor, they’re also amused by the fact they’ll have to go to the Niagara Falls Country Club to accept the accolade. It’s rare for customers to visit Casa Antica and not find at least one Soldano or Bellanca working on site.

“They put in everything,” Jack said.

“I always say I wouldn’t mind if they do get out of the business, because then they would get like a real life; 9 to 5; then go home to their kids; home on the weekends,” he explained. “But, once you get into this business, then it’s like it penetrates your soul.”

Charlie said, “When you love the food, and you have passion, and you’ve got a great support system like we do, you can do anything.”

The Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce and the Lewiston Business Group congratulate Casa Antica, the 2019 Lewiston Business of the Year.

Visit Casa Antica online at http://casaanticarestaurant.com/.

Giuseppe Bellanca mans the booth at the Northwest Jazz Festival in Lewiston.

Inside the Casa Antica Lounge.

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