There were times after a July 4, 2016 fire that the owners of Villa Vittoria restaurant in Brick debated whether or not to reopen. But less than six weeks later, the owners and staff are glad they held out and brought the Italian eatery back to life.
“This was our dream,” said Nelson Monroy, one of five co-owners who started as busboys in 1987 and ended up buying the restaurant in 2005. “We worked fourteen more years, and then we had the fire.”
The good news is that the Brick community has supported the restaurant more than ever since it reopened Aug. 24 with an expanded and newly-renovated dining room. Monroy said the experience of reopening the restaurant – located at the corner of Old Hooper Avenue and Cedar Bridge Road – has cemented the love he has for his customers and has created a bond between the staff and patrons.
Monroy and his brother, along with another pair of brothers and a friend, came to Brick from Colombia after meeting a man from town on the cruise ship where they worked. The cruise ship passenger befriended the group and helped set them up with jobs at Villa Vittoria. In 2005, the group purchased the establishment from their former boss, and opened a second restaurant in Lacey Township.
The 2016 fire didn’t damage the structure of the building, but destroyed the interior between smoke and water damage from a sprinkler system. After surveying the destruction, the owners were considered selling the place.
“At some points, we were thinking that we couldn’t do this, and there were some buyers,” Monroy said.
In the restaurant industry, Monroy explained, it is widely held that an establishment will never regain its customers base if the doors are closed for more than six months. Villa Vittoria’s renovation would take more than a year.
Ultimately, Monroy said, it was his customers who persuaded him to reopen. Phone calls and e-mails with support came from all around town. Everyone said they’d be back – but would they really do so?
“It’s amazing, there are some customers where we used to say hi to them, and now they’re like a family member,” said Monroy.
Even the entire staff returned after 14 months.
The renovation itself has also helped improve the restaurant for the long term. A private party room on the south side of the restaurant has been removed, giving way to an expanded and more open dining room. Partitions will allow portions of the room to be closed off temporarily for private parties.
The bar has also been moved from a small corner to the head of the dining room. There are comfortable seats and a pleasing, modern look to a place where customers now relax before or after their meal.
“Now people come back and have a drink and a conversation before they eat, or after they leave the table, and they see it’s part of the restaurant,” Monroy said of the bar.
But none of the restaurant’s success would be possible if the customers didn’t come back. Monroy expressed supreme thanks to the community for their response, helping Villa Vittoria defy the odds in the restaurant industry and come back stronger than ever.
“The customers are amazing,” Monroy said. “Our relationship with our customers has gotten even stronger.”