After 47 years at its location near the Pelham train station, Villa Nova E. Restaurant is closing on Sunday, Nov. 9. Owner Ernie Bevilacqua has sold the landmark restaurant to an undisclosed buyer.
Back in 1971, it was a Gannett newspaper food critic who gave Villa Nova E. the name "Ravioli King" and it still rings true, The homemade ravioli has been the restaurant's favorite menu item for generations and still is.
Even as other restaurants have come to Pelham, the traditional Italian fare brings back Villa Nova's loyal customers and newcomers.
However, Ernie has seen the number of customers decline in recent years.. He remembers when there were lines of people out the door and the kitchen was cooking until midnight. "Now, people still like Italian food but they also want to try other things—there are lots of Asian and other kinds of restaurants to try,” Ernie said. He noted that there is also now more competition even in downtown Pelham where there are 15 restaurants.
Habits change too. There were years when Villa Nova did a large lunch business with customers from Mt. Vernon and surrounding communities paying on business expense accounts which, in many cases, now are a thing of the past. The Villa Nova bar with its proximity to the train station also once was busy for hours after midnight.
Villa Nova long has had a large party business, with two large rooms seating 140 people in each on the second floor. April, May and June usually are especially busy for Communion and Confirmation parties. "We would have five to six parties a day during those months," Ernie recalled.
However, Ernie decided in the last year that it was time to retire. "This is a tough business," he said. "We work long hours, almost seven days a week and we are closed only on Thanksgiving and Christmas." His children have worked at the restaurant, but they now are pursuing other careers.
Not only is Ernie retiring but so is Chef Vincenzo Capparelli, who has been at Villa Nova for 43 years and will be moving to Georgia. Ernie, who lives in New Rochelle, is looking forward to playing more tennis and golf.
As he looks to the final days of Villa Nova, Ernie had this to say:
"We are so grateful to our patrons for their loyalty for so many years. Our employees are family to us. My daughter Adele has run the catering with attention to every detail for many years. My son Anthony had been with me since he was 13 years old and just left this year to pursue a different career. My son Frank works catering upstairs and runs the bar downstairs. He is still there by my side every day. His wife Angela is my personal secretary and bookkeeper.
Thank you to our other bartenders, Orlando and Bobby. A special thank you to Camille, our waitress who has been with us for over 45 years and still welcomes everyone. When Villa Nova E closes its doors, it will be a sad day but the good memories we have made through the years will always remain."