BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Sal and Tami Passalacqua are approaching their 40th Anniversary at Dimaios and are excited to celebrate this milestone with the community.
Dimaios menu combines the traditions of Sal's Sicilian heritage along with inspirations from his worldly culinary adventures with an emphasis on the highest quality ingredients, locally sourced, at the peak of freshness.
When Sal took over Dimaios 40 years ago, a slice of pizza cost 25 cents and the menu included Sicilian specialties like Spaghetti Carbonara, Fetuccini Bolognese, Veal Marsala, Chicken Parmesan, Lasagna, Manicotti and Stuffed Shells. Today, diners continue to feast on the famous pies and Sicilian favorites, but foodies can also savor their appetite with Sal's breadcrumb crusted Ribeye Steak, Peppertown Pork Chop, herb stuffed Branzino [a delectable sea bass], Chesapeake crabs and the favorite Heirloom tomato salad, when in season.
TAPinto recently sat with Sal for a rare interview.
Part I: Carini Roots to Dimaios
Let's go back to the beginning when Sal's Aunt Maria came to Brooklyn, NY from Carini, Palermo, Sicily in the 1960s with her American husband. One of their four sons got into the pizzeria business and opened his first restaurant in Bay Ridge and then moved to Newton, NJ and opened Dominick's [which still exists as the first and oldest pizza restaurant in Newton].
The family pizzeria business grew to 15 to 20 restaurants across New Jersey and spread to Bucks County, PA before it fractioned off between the brothers. When Sal's cousins returned to Italy to get married, they convinced 100 family members to come to New Jersey to help with the business, including Sal's family. Sal's father, Giuseppe, had five brothers and three sisters -- one brother and one sister stayed behind in Carini -- the rest came to New Jersey.
Sal's family settled in Raritan in 1973, where he attended Bridgewater-Raritan High School and met his future wife Tami. Sal was an accomplished soccer player, earning All-State honors with scholarship opportunities. He took a pass on playing soccer at the collegiate level due to his family obligation to the business and chose to attend Somerset Community College, while working at the restaurants.
By the time he turned 20, he had enough money together to buy his own place and bought Dimaios in Berkeley Heights from Jack DiMaio, who opened the restaurant in 1969. Sal and Jack's connection was the Sicilian ties to Carini.
"We came here and I basically had to convince my relatives that I was worthy of their investment," said Sal. "It was a lot of money. Significant amount of money with a good following." After paying a sizable down payment, his first day of business was Columbus Day, October 9, 1978.
In the early days, Sal saw a drop in business due to the gas crisis. It was a time that interest rates were through the roof. "Within three months, business dropped 20 percent," he said. "People were parked down Springfield Avenue, waiting for gas." He remembers handing out free drinks to the parked cars. His lunch crowd was gone. His staff was down to one waitress. His mother, Ilda, came to cook while he made the pizzas. He ran a "lean and mean" business.
"I made it in the beginning through a little bit of luck," said Sal. "Fortunately, things turned around and by 1984, we started to get busier and busier." His mother phased back, and Sal took charge of the kitchen.
Stay tuned for the next article in the series: Sal's expansion into pizza delivery; going to culinary school and his introduction to the Food Network and Emeril.
Dimaios is located at 468 Springfield Avenue in Berkeley Heights. To make reservations call 908.464.8585.
OPEN 7 DAYS
Sunday - Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Friday and Saturday 11:00 a.m. 11:00 p.m.
Sunday 1:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.