Pete and Frank Candela have been in the food business since they were kids.
It was an environment they were, quite literally, born into, as they grew up in a house located above the family restaurant, Candela Ristorante.
“It’s the house with the pizzeria in it,” Pete said.
The house first became a restaurant in 1947 under the ownership of the DiSylvester family. Next it was owned by the Rossi family, and then eventually purchased by the Candela family after they came over from Italy in 1967.
“I’ve worked with my father since I was 10 years old, helping out,” Frank said.
The brothers, who took over ownership of the pizzeria from their parents in 1984, are first-generation Italian-Americans, and over the years they have learned all the family’s secret recipes. So Pete brings his lifetime of expertise to the table while working as one of the chefs, even though he has never gone to restaurant school.
“My school was my mom,” he said. “My mother taught me how to cook in the kitchen. My father taught me how to make pizza.”
The brothers said locals have told them Candela’s pizza is the best in town.
“It’s like eating at mom’s house,” Pete said.
When frequent customers come in, the cooks often begin making their food before anyone has a chance to order.
“It’s really awesome that we grew up in this area and we get to know everybody that’s in town,” Pete said. “When people come in, it’s basically like Cheers. We know everyone who comes in and out. We know them by what they order.”
The brothers say all they can ask is that people leave happy.
“They feel like they’re at home,” Pete said. “That’s more satisfying than making money. Money pays the bills, but to have someone come back and say how good the food is makes you feel good.”
The Candelas said local residents have many favorites dishes beyond the pizza. Those dishes include the lasagna, fried calamari, seafood dishes and chicken parmigiana.
When asked how they keep people coming back, Pete says it’s all about the secret sauce recipe. If the sauce needs to be made, it’s up to Pete or his parents because no one else knows the ingredients.
“None of the employees know,” Pete said. “[My mom] will come down and that’s all I want her to do, because she’ll try to start doing everything. I’d rather she just do the sauce. That’s her recipe and my dad’s recipe put together.”
Pete says his parents collaborated and tried many different recipes until the sauce was perfected.
Eventually, the secret recipe will have to be passed down to one of Pete’s two children; his daughter Ava Rose, 5, already wants to be a waitress.
“We play restaurant at home. She cooks and serves,” Pete said.
It seems like the restaurant is poised to stay the family business.
Candela Ristorante & Pizzeria is located at 22 Lawn Park Ave. in Lawrenceville. Hours are Monday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and Sunday noon-9:30 p.m. To order or set up a reservation, call (609) 882-9119.