The Hansen family keeps alive the dream of owning their own restaurant, despite the death of William Thomas Hansen Sr., husband and father. Pictured are (from left to right): William Thomas Hansen Sr., Jake Hansen, Billy Thomas Hansen Jr., Mary Hansen and Christina Hansen. Undated photo courtesy of the Hansen family.

Sometimes eating out just doesn’t have the same feeling as staying in. But the proprietors of Gaetano’s Steaks and Subs in Hamilton Square want customers to feel right at home.

“We want people to feel comfortable,” said Billy Thomas Hansen Jr., son of owner Mary Hansen. “We don’t want people to feel like they’re at a restaurant.”

The Hansen family has implemented creative ideas to do just that, especially for children. Every Wednesday is kids’ night. Children eat for free and can watch cartoons, play with toys and games and win prizes. They can play with the toys any night though, Hansen said.

For birthday parties, children can also make their very own pizzas using dough, sauce and cheese for $5 a pizza. And game nights are a big hit for the adults, who can bring their own beverages and watch sports on the TVs, he said.

The Hansens say they have seen their customer base grow steadily in the more than one year the franchise has been open. Sadly, events have not unfolded as the family had foreseen.

A month after the family opened the restaurant in September 2005, William Thomas Hansen, Sr., husband to Mary Hansen and co-owner of the franchise, was killed in a motorcycle accident. Owning a restaurant had been the couple’s dream.

“It was our piece of the American pie,” said Mary Hansen.

Today there are more than eight Gaetano’s franchises, most of them in southern New Jersey. Cheesesteaks are one of their best selling menu items, and the Hamilton franchise was recently voted number one by 97.5 FM The Hawk, a former area radio station. For $12.70 customers can get a 12-inch cheesesteak that contains more than a pound of meat.

Prior to opening her own franchise, Mary Hansen worked in the original Gaetano’s in Willingboro for 15 years. Husband William worked as a transportation director of a shipping company.

The Hansen family has been through a lot, but they keep moving forward. Billy, the oldest son, 20, has now taken on a larger role in the restaurant.

“It was their dream and now it has turned into mine,” he said,

Though still a junior in college at Mount St. Mary’s University, he still finds the time to help out his mother, as do her two other children.

“This thing kind of fell in my lap,” he said. “My dad’s not here, so I kind of stepped in his shoes.”

Hansen, who had never made a pizza before, has now created a dozen different varieties for the restaurant. They include Buffalo chicken pizza, The herbivore pizza and ranchero white pizza.

Prices range from $7.85 to $8.80 for a personal 12-inch pizza or $14.85 to $15.80 for a large 16-inch pizza. On Monday nights, customers can order $6 pizzas. The menu also includes burgers, cold or hot sandwiches, club sandwiches, hoagies, wraps, pasta dishes, seafood platters and calzones.

Given 24-hour notice, the restaurant will also do catering for parties of any size, Billy Hansen said.

Gaetano’s is located at 1800 Route 33, Hamilton Square, across from Nitti’s Subaru. Call (609) 588-8111 or visit gaetanosteaks.com.