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a taste of sicily in jonesboro
story and photo by Shaila Creekmore

Young entrepreneurs Nick Troni, 25, and Al Berisha, 24, recently moved to Jonesboro to bring the flavors of their Sicilian parents’ cuisine to the city with the opening of their own business, Roma’s Italian Restaurant.

Troni grew up working in his father’s restaurant in Ohio and later ended up working in Berisha’s family restaurant in Dallas. Berisha’s father, John, founded Roma’s in Texas, where the family runs two locations. After spending time learning how to run a restaurant, the pair began looking for a location to open a third Roma’s Italian location, this one on their own.

“Al and I are young guys and you wouldn’t think we would open a restaurant, but we’re hard workers and it was time for us to go out on our own,” said Troni, who will soon become part of the Berisha family as he is engaged to his business partner’s sister. Troni and Berisha looked at various metropolitan areas to assess
the growth potential and restaurants already established in the area before settling on Jonesboro.

“Jonesboro is really just growing,” said Troni. “I think Jonesboro is going to just keep growing and growing. We did a lot of research. … With Arkansas State here and the new hospital, it seemed like a good place.”

To be near the ASU campus and toward the north side of town, Troni and Berisha selected a location just off campus on Caraway Road in a former restaurant that had recently closed.

Renovations to update the building included tearing up the carpet and tile in the dining room, staining the concrete floors, painting and a major redesign of the kitchen.

“Everything in the kitchen had to be redone, including all new equipment,” said Troni. “It took two to three months. We were working day-in and day-out to get it done.”

Roma’s Italian Restaurant opened on Dec. 2, 2013, and the business quickly took off. Troni said the first five months of the business have gone well; they have a steady crowd and are beginning to build a regular customer base.

The experience has been a positive one for the young business partners.
“Owning your own restaurant is a little more difficult (than helping
to manage one),” said Troni. “I’m the chef, as well, so it’s a lot of pressure.
It’s the time and you have to worry about everything – a (product) order
that didn’t come in, an employee who doesn’t show up.”

Troni said the first two months proved to be the most difficult but that he felt things were now running more smoothly.

“Al and I ran his dad’s restaurant, but it’s not the same when it’s actually yours,” said Troni. “I figured out what we were doing and where we were headed, so things have gone well overall.”

As the primary chef, Troni has assumed the role of running the kitchen while Berisha primarily runs the front of the restaurant. Berisha is also working with another business partner to open an additional location in Hope.

Roma’s Italian Restaurant prides itself on making food their parents grew up eating in Sicily using their own family recipes.“We cook real, authentic Italian food,” said Troni. “It’s what we grew up eating. These aren’t recipes you see on TV – fancy recipes– these are mom and pop recipes.”

Many of the recipes are the same ones the Berishas offer in their Texas restaurants, while others are Troni’s family recipes. All of the restaurant’s sauces are made from the families’ recipes, as are pastas like lasagna, manicotti noodles and ravioli.

Roma’s offers a traditional Italian menu with all of the favorites including lasagna, baked manicotti and ziti, baked eggplant parmigiana and spaghetti with a choice of pasta and meat.

It also offers a large selection of chicken dishes, including a popular dish called Chicken Murphy, which includes chicken sautéed with mushrooms, onions, jalapenos and fresh garlic in a blush sauce. Other chicken dishes on the menu include marsala, alfredo, parmigiana and cacciatore.

Roma’s offers four veal dishes: veal parmigiana, veal dama blanca, veal marsala and veal picatta, all served over pasta. Seafood dishes include linguini clam sauce, lobster ravioli, tilapia and shrimp alfredo or scampi.

For those who want something not served over pasta, Roma’s offers meatball, sausage, chicken or veal parmigina served as a hot sub, as well as a Philly cheese steak. Pizzas are also a popular item, especially for take-out. Pizzas are made with a variety of toppings and are offered in 12”, 14” and 16” sizes.

Each day, Troni also makes two additional dishes from among his personal recipes. The specials change daily and include items such as chicken Florentine, a chicken breast in alfredo sauce with fresh spinach, or chicken carbonza, a dish with chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and scallions in a blush sauce.

Troni said he is enjoying being able to bring many of his own recipes to the table as he and Berisha present their own blend of Italian cuisine to Jonesboro.

“If you come here once, I promise you’ll like it,” said Troni. Roma’s Italian Restaurant, located at 811 S. Caraway, is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, call 275-7697.