By Michelle Love | Photos by Chris Jones
Joe’s Italian has provided carefully crafted excellence to the community every day since it opened in 2009.
Giuseppe “Joe” Bertolone and his wife, Elvira, moved to the United States from Sicily in 1977. They lived in California for several years before moving to the Shelby County area in 2007. The couple opened Joe’s Italian two years later.
After Joe’s death in 2013, the corporation, Clean Plate, decided to acquire the business in 2014, vowing to maintain the vision the restaurant was founded upon. The restaurant’s general manager Katie Laminack says maintaining an acquired restaurant’s originality is part of Clean Plate’s mission as a company.
“When they acquired Joe’s, they also acquired the recipes from Mama, which is how she was affectionately known, and they still try to keep Joe and Mama’s vision alive by honoring that,” Katie says.
Assistant General Manager and one of the restaurant’s lead chefs Ethan Dorough says Joe’s Italian has provided him with a strong sense of family and community.
“We home-make all of our sauces, and it’s the same recipes that Joe and Mama used,” he says. “We take a lot of care in not just all of our sauces, but also in all of our specials.”
Katie credits Ethan’s creativity for the menu staying vibrant and exciting to guests.
“Ethan has been one of the best employees and now fellow managers I’ve ever worked with,” she says. “He’s not afraid to try new things. He comes up with new ideas and new specials on a regular basis.”
Katie adds that providing freedom in the kitchen is the best way for the chefs to continue aspiring to try new things.
“I’m all about giving our cooks the freedom in the kitchen to experiment,” she explains. “Joe’s has been a staple in Alabaster for so many years, and we want people to always be excited to see what we have to offer.”
Highlights on the menu include the Alabaster Scampi, which is made with shrimp and sausage over linguine pasta with a white wine cream sauce and roasted red peppers for a pop of color.
The Lasagna Bianco is a classic dish that was literally dreamed up by Joe’s daughter, Sonia. It is a spicy sausage with turnip greens that is made into a lasagna with white sauce. Since its conception, it has become a staple on the menu, combining the classic flavors of both Italy and the South.
Everything is made fresh for every catering order, including bread and sauces. All sauces are gluten free, and they also have gluten-free pasta options and desserts.
Whether it’s a catering event or a typical weekend date night, Katie says the authenticity of the experience will always be enjoyed.
“We try to serve true Italian cuisine,” she says. “It’s not the factory-made stuff from other Italian brands. We try to keep it as true to the original ‘Joe and Mama,’ who moved from Sicily to here. We try to keep it as honest to them as we can. Give us a try. We’re going to treat our guests like it’s their first time every time. You’re going to get the same outcome every single time you come here.”
It’s always been a top priority of the Joe’s Italian way to treat everyone with as much respect and care as the dishes served to its guests, and this respect especially goes for its staff.
“We come here, and we basically hang out with our friends,” Ethan says, smiling. “It’s just such a great job.”
“We are a smaller restaurant, so that gives it more of a homey feeling,” Katie adds. “We are a small staff, and we’re all very close. We have employees who have been here for 14 years. I’ve been in the service industry for 17 years. This establishment, the feel or the soul of it, it’s probably the best job I’ve ever had.”
While some restaurants have issues maintaining staff, Katie says Joe’s has several employees that have been there more than 10 years. Though Katie has been with the company just a little over a year and a half, she says the feeling of familial devotion the staff has for each other is undeniable.
“Last May I was hospitalized with a very severe kidney infection, and I ended up turning septic,” Katie recalls. “I was in the hospital for about a week, and I had more people from Joe’s call every single day to make sure I was okay than I did from my own family.”
Ethan says he had a similar experience with the restaurant after a death in the family.
“The old general manager, James, reached out to me and said, ‘Take as much time as you need,’” Ethan says. “The ladies in the back made me food and were like, ‘Don’t worry, just hang out.’ Everyone wants to make sure you are okay.”
Maintaining such a strong staff as well as the consistency of the food has led to the immense county-wide popularity of the restaurant over its 14-year run.
“It makes us feel good,” she says. “It’s one of the more humbling aspects of working for Joe’s and Clean Plate. I had a review the other day of people coming from Gadsden and Gulf Shores, saying they always make it a point to stop at Joe’s.”
They have a very strong social media presence to stay relevant in the community, and they also work with quite a few charities.
“We have an event we run from Dec. 1 until Dec. 31 called the ‘Cake Count,’” Katie says. “Every slice of cake that we sell in those 31 days, we donate a dollar to the Shelby County Humane Society. If we sell a whole cake, that’s nine slices so we donate $9. We do a whole check presentation, and we make a big deal out of it. This community has given so much to Joe’s, so we try to give back to it.”
Joe’s has regulars the staff knows by name. If a customer is not a regular yet, the employees guarantee he’ll become one. Katie says it’s all about Joe’s Italian’s continuous strive for not only excellence, but that warm, familial atmosphere that makes everyone feel at home.
To access Joe’s Italian’s menu, visit their website at joesitalianonline.com. For more information on catering or reserving the private dining room, email email@example.com.