Friendlier, which started out as a typical pizza place 35 years ago, has evolved into a full-fledged Italian restaurant, thanks to a major store expansion, an extensive menu and wine list, and some updated interior decorating.
As Vito Vinceslao and his uncle Mario Divella mark more than three decades serving the Five Towns, Vinceslao discussed the restaurant’s longevity with Patch.
How long have you owned Friendlier?
My father was a chef and then bought Friendlier in 1976. It was only six months old, and the place was brand spanking new.
What made your father decide to buy his own restaurant?
The American dream.
Why the Five Towns?
Soon after my father bought the place, we moved from Brooklyn to Woodmere. He heard of the Five Towns. Back then, the Five Towns was “The Five Towns.” It really meant something.
When did you come aboard?
My uncle Mario started working here when he was 16 years old. I just became a partner last year, but I worked here in my high school years until now.
Did you always want to follow in your father’s footsteps and come into the family business?
I’ve always been here — all my life. I love this business. I always wanted to do this. Business is good, which is always a plus, and you meet a lot of people.
Do you primarily run the restaurant or do you cook too?
Mario and I can do everything in this place. A cook can walk out on me right now, and it would be no problem.
What sets Friendlier apart from all the other Italian restaurants in the area?
The key to our success is our food. And it’s a family-operated place, not like some others that are run by a manager or an employee. This is a neighborhood place. People come here, and it’s like a home away from home. Good economy, bad economy — we’re always steady. We have great, loyal clientele.
Have you made any significant changes to the restaurant over the years?
Many years ago we expanded. We took over a beauty salon next door. We add new dishes every week on the specials. When we first came in, it was mostly pizza, baked ziti and chicken parm heroes — the basics. Our new theme is the “trattoria,” which is the beautiful wine selection, our extended menu and the décor is beautiful.
What are some menu favorites?
We sell a lot of our special salads, which is growing stronger and stronger. A lot of people get the roast chicken. Kids eat it, adults love it. It’s made with rosemary, garlic and a white wine sauce. And the Shrimp Mario is another [popular dish].
What do you want customers to take away from their experience at Friendlier?
Mario and I would like to thank everybody for their continued support. We make people feel at home here. They feel comfortable. They don’t feel robbed or rushed. We hardly need to give menus to people anymore, because they know what they want — they’re regulars. I think this is truly a hidden treasure.