Written by Eric Taubert Saturday, 13 February 2010 14:25
Lamotta's Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria celebrates its 30th year of continual business in South Fort Myers on February 13th.
Today we're going to take things in a different direction. In place of my normal, straightforward review -- I'm going to mix it up a little by going deep into the mind and thoughts which collectively give shape to Lamotta's Italian Restaurant.
Carmelo Lamotta is the man at the helm of this longstanding eatery. He is a multi-faceted character: down to earth, media-savvy, passionate, current, informed, analytic and driven. Three decades of the daily grind only a family-owned venture can provide have granted Lamotta a unique perspective on the restaurant business and the cuisine scene of Southwest Florida. The evolution of a restaurant over thirty years is a compelling story. Lamotta is the perfect person to tell it. I jumped at the opportunity to interview him while reacquainting myself with the cuisine of Lamotta's Italian Restaurant.
Talking to Lamotta is like taking a crash course in Restaurant Ownership. Here's some of what he had to say:
"My mother and father, Maria and Salvatore Lamotta, came to this country from Sicily and owned a few pizzerias up north -- New York and New Jersey -- before they moved to Fort Myers and opened Lamotta's Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria. That was 1980. At the time, there were only three Italian restaurants in Fort Myers...and we were one of them.
I started working here when I was 7 years old. Now I'm 36. So I've been here the entire time. Looking back, there have been a lot of changes. Changes in the world. Changes in Fort Myers. Changes right here in this shopping center. Other businesses have come and gone -- some of them were big businesses -- we used to look out at Publix across the parking lot, now that same building houses a Big Lots. We're still here, still going strong.
You need to listen to your guests -- and deliver what they're looking for. That's going to change over time, so you need to flexible and adapt to the market. We've been through a few different phases here at Lamotta's. We used to have a salad bar, then we did a type of sports bar theme for awhile; But, now we're hearing that people want an authentic Italian place where they can enjoy a leisurely meal in the company of good friends - and really, that's what we've always been - but we're constantly in the process of making small tweaks in our atmosphere to deliver the experience our guests are seeking.
The little changes I make at the restaurant also help me identify visitation patterns in my guests - if someone says, 'Hey - what happened to the salad bar?' then I know it's been four years since they've been here. Why have they been away so long? I know I have to try my hardest to make this meal special and memorable for them - so they won't wait another 4 years before returning again. They've given me a chance to impress them - and for that I'm grateful.
Our guests like to see a Sicilian cooking their food...and they're lucky because my family and I were born and raised there. This is an authentic Italian restaurant. We speak Italian. We brought our recipes with us when we came to America. Plus we make the soups, and sauce, and dough by hand every day. It's a lot of work, but the results speak for themselves.
I'm one of these chefs that's in the kitchen - don't get me wrong, when I get an opportunity, I'll get out in the dining room and socialize - but it's the food people are coming here for. They're not coming here to socialize with me; they're coming for the food. I focus my attention on putting out quality dishes each and every time...that's what keeps our guests coming back
This isn't one of those corporate chains where they rush you in and out in half an hour. I always tell guests at Lamotta's, 'Take your time eating!' That's part of the Italian tradition of food -- the enjoyment of it. You can't properly enjoy it if you’re being rushed through the process. During meals at my house, we have so many different courses - I have to take a nap somewhere in the middle - and by the time we finish dessert, it's almost time to start over again. That's what Italian eating is like.
The other thing that sets us apart from the corporate chains is our use of fresh and local ingredients. This makes your dinner a little different each time you visit Lamotta's. Fresh tomatoes taste different according to growing conditions, and when they're harvested - sometimes they're sweeter - sometimes they're more acidic - we adjust our recipes accordingly - but this is what real food tastes like. We also try to offer items our competitors don't have - this helps to keep our menu exciting.
There are a lot of restaurants competing for business in Southwest Florida. It's not like the old days when good word of mouth kept the seats in your restaurant full...even word of mouth has changed -- now it's online. People whip out their smart-phones in the middle of a meal, connect to the internet, and leave instant reviews -- sometimes with images and videos. Now, more than ever, it's important to make sure you're doing all you can to make each guest happy.
In the beginning we barely had to advertise. Restaurants were few and far between, and hungry customers were everywhere. These days, if you want to compete, it is imperative to advertise in all venues. But it doesn't stop there -- You've got to get out in the community, show your face, shake the hands, and remind potential guests you're still here. I guarantee if you're not out there making the rounds, some other restaurant owner is, and that's the one people will think of when they decide to eat out. Marketing and publicity are full time jobs in, and of, themselves.
You've got to let the people know who you are and what you do. Now, there are some high-end Italian restaurants in the area with white table cloths and pricey menus - that's just not who we are...This is a family atmosphere - and we're priced so our guests can return on a regular basis - plus, I guarantee that when it comes to what's on your plate - you'll be amazed at the value we deliver - Try our Osso Bucco - I'll put it up against anybody's in town -- and we charge less.
Through it all, the times may have changed -- but here at Lamotta's our quality and devotion to our customers has not. We are passionate about what we do and you can see that in every meal we make."
-- writing and video by Eric Taubert
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