A slice of New York|Downtown pizzeria has family atmosphere

Published 7:30 am Friday, July 17, 2009

Contributing Editor

Walking into La Bella Pizzeria in downtown Washington is akin to visiting Brooklyn, N.Y.
Owner Gary Tomasulo’s accent marks him as a Brooklynite. Several photos of Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Bridge adorn the walls of the pizzeria that opened July 9. And the pizza leaves no doubt it’s Brooklyn-style pizza.
Although Tomasulo did most of the work that resulted in La Bella Pizzeria opening its doors July 9, it’s a family affair. The first words Tomasulo used to describe the pizzeria were “family style.” The back of the pizzeria’s menu shows the immediate family tree of the Tomasulo-Albano family.
That family tree lists Tomasulo’s wife, Marie, sons Gary Jr. and Jeffrey and daughter Jaime Albano and their spouses and children. Marie Tomasulo has been at her husband’s side at the pizzeria since it opened.
It’s the family atmosphere, in part, in which Tomasulo is counting on to make the pizzeria a hit with area residents and visitors.
“We’re offering them a family style pizzeria, a friendly atmosphere and a great staff,” Tomasulo said while taking orders during a recent lunch-hour rush.
If that’s not enough to attract customers, the new downtown business plans to schedule several “tossing shows” so customers can observe pizza-makers tossing pizza dough into the air, catching it and stretching it into a doughy disk.
Jim Nance, a Washington resident who said his trips to New York during the past 20 years or so have given him a familiarization with village pizza parlors, believes the pizzeria enhances downtown Washington.
“It’s bringing an ethnic aspect that locals and tourists alike will appreciate,” Nance said. “He’s brought something downtown we need.”
La Bella Pizzeria brings the authenticity of a New York-style village pizzeria to Washington and diversity to dining options in the city, especially the downtown area, he said.
“I think Gary and Marie have captured it” Nance said. “It’s villagey.”
Tomasulo acknowledges the pizzeria didn’t open as soon as some people, including himself, wanted it to open.
“I started this in February of 2007. … I would say I did 90-something percent of the work by myself,” he said. “I didn’t rush. I took my time. I wanted to do it right.”
Finally, opening day came.
“We were packed,” Tomasulo said. “I am very pleased with the response. I am happy to see community support for a downtown business,” said Tomasulo, president of the Historic Downtown Washington Merchants Association.
Customers should not expect to get their food immediately after they order it, he said.
“They should expect to wait a few minutes. We are going to cook to order,” Tomasulo said.
The only exception should be when someone orders pizza by the slice, he said. For such orders, whole pizzas will be kept on warmers. Toppings, if ordered, with be added to individual slices, which will be returned to the pizza oven to finish them off before serving them, Tomasulo said.
Jeremy Reason, Aimee Young and Clinton Rouse are the three full-time workers Tomasulo hired to dish out the pizza, calzones, Italian rolls, salads, hero sandwiches, appetizers and gelato. For those not familiar with gelato, it’s the Italian version of ice cream, Tomasulo said.
The pizzeria features indoor seating, outdoor seating and a counter for diners who prefer standing while eating or may be forced to stand because all the seats are occupied. Outdoor seating is available at the front and rear of the pizzeria, located between Big Bargain Furniture and the Flor De Sol Cigars on West Main Street.
The outdoor seating at the rear of the pizzeria features a table with a bright red-and-white umbrella with the Coca-Cola trademark emblazoned on it. Tomasulo believes it will be noticed by people doing business at the Beaufort County Courthouse, especially on days when District Court and Superior Court are in session at the same time.
La Bella Pizzeria, located at 126 W. Main St., is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. In addition to soft drinks and iced tea, the pizzeria sells draft beer and wine by the glass.
“Once we get the kinks ironed out, we anticipate opening on Sundays after church,” Tomasulo said.