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Benvenuto & Buon Appetito !
Riccardo’s Italian Restaurant is thrilled you came by!
Enjoy Lunch or Dinner with us, as we celebrate 40 years serving the Browns Mills, Pemberton and Fort Dix, NJ surrounding communities with fresh Italian food served with a smile.
Hours We Deliver !
Hours: Sun. - Thurs. 11am - 10pm Fri. & Sat. 11am - 11pm
So, order ahead or come in for our restaurant setting. Take a look at our complete menu and coupons you can use for take out and delivery. BYOB/W
Vito Russo's excellent catering service is available for your family, friends and business affairs.
We are proud of our heritage and happy you're a part of our history. Thank you for your patronage.
Riccardo’s Italian Restaurant began in 1974 by Salvatore Russo, who originally emigrated from Palermo, Sicily.
My name is Vito Russo, his Son and current chef and owner. Our shared love of food and cooking after 36 years has propelled Riccardo’s into a very successful local Restaurant and to this day, we still greet our customers with a smile.
It is with great pride; yet humbleness, that I have the opportunity to share with you my story of Riccardo’s Restaurant. I want our story to be forthright, truthful and as humble as the man that opened its doors, Salvatore, my Father.
It’s a story that comes from my heart and one that I’ve managed to put together the best I can from my some of my fondest and not so fondest memories that I’ve experienced while working with my father since I was a child of 13 years old. I will try to relay the story the best I can from my recollections and my father’s memories.
In 1971 my father, Salvatore Russo boarded a plane set for NY. After leaving his homeland of Sicily, Italy for the “American Dream”, he landed in JFK Airport with $50 dollars to his name.
He arrived on a 2 week Visitor’s Visa as a skilled cabinet maker and set his sights on finding a job. After tireless searching, he realized that there was no work to be had as a cabinet maker in the Sates so he found a job washing dishes in Queens NY in a small pizzeria. Progressing from there he eventually was trained as kitchen help and would also deliver pizzas on a bike.
Salvatore would spend 7 days a week working full time in that pizzeria, where he also lived and would sleep at night in the basement. My father would become a skilled cook and pizza man as the years progressed and though he was young, he had drive and a dream. Working hard, Salvatore saved his money and set his sights on opening his own pizza place.
On July 12th 1974, my father, Salvatore Russo, celebrated his 25th birthday by opening Riccardo’s Pizza. It was located at its present location on 567 Lakehurst Road next to the old Cumberland Farms from which he rented and directly across from the Country Lakes entrance which still had dirt roads at the time.
Riccardos Restaurant was the only pizzeria in town at the time. The “original” Restaurant was built and secured on a $12,000.00 dollar loan which was acquired by my father. It was only 900 square feet, held 15 customers at best at four tables, with one small pizza oven, a grill (which was only 1 1/2 feet long) and a wooden counter top (where hoagies were made) and a small refrigerator.
Most of the time he worked alone as a ‘One Man Operation’ making all the food by hand, from scratch, using only the finest ingredients and it showed. His pizza and good Italian food became well known, along with his warm smile and pleasant demeanor, to which he still has to this day!
A large pizza, at that time, could be purchased for $4.50. Working long grueling hours, sometimes all by himself from 11am-12pm weeknights and 11am-1am weekends, he was never home. Even as a child, I don’t recall him being home that much.
It was always understood in my house, as a child, that he was working at the pizzeria. I never questioned it and I never asked why.
I remember seeing my father before I left for school every morning. And even though he was always sleepy and groggy from the previous night’s work, he always managed to smile at me telling me to have a good day at school. He was always gone by the time I came home, but he was a dedicated father who worked 24/7.
I looked up to him and wanted nothing more than to be like him when I grew up. While the other children wanted to be policemen, firemen, doctors and lawyers when they grew up, I wanted to be a chef. I wanted nothing more than to wear my fathers white cook’s uniform and be just like him. After much pleading, he would eventually buy me my own white cook’s uniform with my name in embroidered on the chest. (The kind you see on blue collar worker’s uniforms encircled with my name).
As a child, (around 10 years old) my Dad would reluctantly take me to Riccardo’s on the weekends when I would beg him. My first jobs consisted of washing dishes and helping him make dough, sauce and grate cheese. He would prop me up on a chair so that I could reach the counter and he’d show me how it was done. Thereafter, I would soon graduate to standing on phone books until I was finally able to reach the counter tops by myself.
I was proud of myself, but more importantly, I was happy to spend time with my Dad. He was my idol and I wanted nothing more than to make him proud of me.
I started making pizzas at the age of 11. There was however ONE ‘Pizza-making rule’ for me. Because I was so young, I was NOT allowed to make pizzas in view of any customers. And even though I was a skilled pie maker he would explain to me that I “was still too young and that it would not look “right” that his loyal customers see a young child standing on phone books making their pizza.” Salvatore would get compliments on on his pies even though I made them myself. He would wink at me and praise me for a good job.
I joined my father part-time at the age of 14. He would send someone to pick me up at school in the afternoons and I would join him for work. We worked together everyday after school and managed to do my homework at Riccardo’s in between making pizzas and working. As I got older I would deliver pizzas while he would work the inside. We worked as a team.
When I graduated high school I joined my father as a full-time partner. We worked tireless hours as Riccardo’s grew with the times. In 1991, we installed call waiting & began accepting credit cards, to which my father still was reluctant to introduce! On Friday, April 24th 1992 at approx. 7 pm Riccardo’s caught fire and we literally watched Riccardo’s go up in flames. I recall begging my father to leave as he fought with me. After much pleading my father and I evacuated the premises as we watched our “whole life” go up in flames.
I don’t think there are words to explain how I felt as we stood across the street and watched helplessly as the firefighters battled the three alarm blaze. The fire still remains to date as one of the biggest fires in all Browns Mills. The memory of my father’s face will probably be embedded in my mind for the rest of my life.
It would be two years later until the restaurant reopened.
In 1993, my father and I purchased the property where Riccardo”s stands today. We purchased the property ‘as is’ and began to rebuild Riccardo’s. On January 24 1994 we reopened Riccardo’s and the town of Browns Mills would embrace our comeback and show their appreciation. The ‘new’ Riccardo’s stood 2400 sq feet strong and to this day holds 100+ people. It was built with a dining room & the menu was expanded. It was a far cry from the original Riccardo’s which only held 15 people!
The years have since come and gone and Salvatore is now 60 years old. He’s half the man he used to be when he first opened the doors of Riccardo’s in 1974. The years have taken a great toll on his body from working 7 days a week for many years and his face shows it.
Though my father doesn’t make pizzas anymore and he doesn’t cook, we still; however, use the same recipes from the very first day Riccardo’s opened its doors. He’s earned his spot in the pizza hall of fame, if there is ever to be one.
I’ve since taken over daily operations of Riccardo’s, but you can still find him behind the counter as he still comes to work with me as much as he can. He doesn’t work 7 days a week anymore, but still helps me out.
I now am 40 years of age and have 2 young boys of my own. I hope to someday instill upon them the hard work ethic my father has instilled upon me. I don’t know what my boys want to be when they grow, but I hope that they look up at me with the same eyes that I did for my father when I was a child.
My father and I still talk about all the years we spent together working at Riccardo’s. We still laugh and carry all the memories that God has managed to bless us with. We’ve shared together a lifetime of memories that will never be able to be taken away from us. I can’t remember a single day not spent with him at Riccardo’s. And even though he’s getting older, he still remains the same idol to me, that I looked up at as a child. Salvatore still has the same smile and warm demeanor about him.
Riccardo’s is celebrating 40 years of business July 12th, 2014 and we thank the town of Browns Mills with that grace everyday as we stand in front of that pizza oven. It takes a special person to be a pizza man and it is not it is not a job of glory. It doesn’t get you a TV show and it wont make you rich and famous, but it did; however, give me the opportunity to spend many a years with my Dad as we built Riccardo’s Pizza together….And for that, I wouldn’t have it any other way.