What does the locally famous Chef from La Polpetta/Arugula restaurants, a Washington Township Businessman, and the Williamstown High School Principal have in common? Plus we toss in a splash of actor/director Kevin Smith!?
That intro line must of grabbed your attention!! I’ll meander a bit with this one, but I’ll tie it all together. I think!
Osteria 545 Italian Kitchen & Bar is coming to Paulsboro NJ, taking over the location which was known for decades as Nino Gervasi’s!
While the restaurant has three new partners, it has significant ties to the beloved Nino’s, including respected area chef Nick who many know from Deptford’s La Polpetta and Washington Township’s Arugula! Would you believe Nick learned his craft at Nino’s, who happens to be Nick’s stepdad…. Nino Gervasi !!
Plus there are more really interesting ties back to the 42Freeway area, including a long time Washington Township resident, and the Principal of Williamstown High School who worked for 5 years as a server at Nino’s!
The storyline reads like a Hollywood Movie script.. so read on to see how this all connects!
Be sure to like their Facebook page to get the latest information on their opening!
The location of the restaurant is 545 W Broad Street in the area of the old Paulsboro Shopping Center which is going through an awesome transformation, with a new Save-A-Lot and Dollar Tree store already opened. The restaurant is located in a separate smaller building directly to the left of Save-A-Lot and closest to Billingsport Road.
They owners are targeting a December 2021 opening. Just last week they crossed a milestone when the State officially authorized the liquor license to the three partners!
Keep scrolling, this is a long one! And Kevin Smith…what does he have to do with this story?!
Osteria 545 – New Experiences but Nino’s is a Part of Everything
We first learned of the new restaurant after seeing a notice that the Paulsboro liquor license was changing ownership, and one of the owners lived right in Washington Township!
In researching further, while at the time we didn’t find a Facebook page (they have one now), we found a friend of the family had posted a photo of the building with a banner announcing that Osteria 545 was coming… so we knew we had to get in touch soon.
So the prior Saturday I stopped down to Paulsboro and first caught up with Rich Shaget from Washington Township, who gave us a tour of what’s in store for the famed restaurant location… and how they are keeping the best of what Nino’s offered but also making it an all new experience.
The script for success from the three owners is set like a Marvel Avengers movie, with each partner bringing together their own special Superhero traits.
The Businessman. The Operations Expert. The Culinary Genius.
A Beautiful Saturday
It was a beautiful end of October Saturday when Mark from 42Freeway stopped down into Paulsboro again… for the first time in a long time. I knew about the new Dollar Tree and Save-A-lot opening in the Paulsboro Plaza but I had just not gotten down this way to post about them, so I was eager to see the whole place.
Driving through the shopping center I see the small building to the left, and the banner placed overhead announcing the new restaurant coming soon “Osteria 545”
And through the window I see a man on a ladder, putting a fresh coat of paint on the walls of the main bar area… One of three partners in Osteria 545… Rich Shaget.
Rich is a very friendly guy who can’t hold back the excitement he has for the restaurant! You instantly realize that Rich is going to be very comfortable chatting with customers in the restaurant, making sure everything is to their liking, and keeping everything running smoothly.
Rich explains he brings a key business mindset to the restaurant, “The Numbers Guy”. Being successful in the Corporate world managing people and budgets, it makes a lot of sense.
In our long conversation we chatted about how the challenges of running a successful restaurant today has greatly increased, with the rising cost of food products and staffing concerns.
I had mentioned that in the reality shows featuring problematic restaurants, they almost always have a story line revolving around managing costs. Rich says that is a key goal of his, to keep tabs on costs, identifying profitable items, and those that aren’t.
Rich and I both agreed that Paulsboro needed another restaurant offering what Nino’s did. A gathering place for the town and others, serving delicious food, wine and cold beer… a place for a family dinner with Grandmom at the table, or just a quiet experience at the bar.
Nino’s Legacy: A Step Back
For the longest part of my visit it was just Rich and I, chatting about the legacy of Nino Gervasi’s and what Osteria 545 was bringing to the famed location.
So it was nice to hear from Rich (and then later from Angelo) how much Nino’s meant to the town of Paulsboro… and how excited everyone in the town and local Government was about the reopening of a restaurant there.
An interesting thing for 42Freeway’s Mark is that many years (decades) ago I had business dealings with the Mobil Refinery and Research Complex, which is just minutes away.
For several years I effectively had a “Gold Pass” to walk around all of the offices of the massive Mobil complex, from all of the refinery, the research buildings, the labs… and despite being in Paulsboro twice a week stopping at Mobil, I never once stopped in at Nino Gervasi’s Italian Restaurant. I know, shocking right?
In researching I’ve learned that former owner and Chef Nino traces his 545 W Broad Street roots back to 1996 when the restaurant first surfaced as Matera’s.
On November 3, 1996… literally 25 years ago this week, the Philadelphia Inquirer had a small piece on Nino’s start at Matera’s. “They hear about Nino’s creations and line up at the door!”
Six years later another article in the Inquirer… this time a restaurant review… listed the restaurant as Nino Gervasi’s.
There are so many excellent quotes in the review…
Inside is some of the best Italian home cooking in the region… there is a reason Nino Gervasi’s has beaten the odds and flourished in Paulsboro, why the parking lot is full of cars most nights.Maureen Fitzgerald on Nino Gervasi’s, Philadelphia Inquirer Dec 29, 2002
Not too long before Covid impacted all of us in 2020, the restaurant changed hands to new ownership… but the reduced operating days and restrictions of 2020 forced those newer owners to close.
And that is where Rich, Angelo and Nick step into the picture.
Osteria 545: The Tour and the People
The first thing that you notice when entering the building is the amazing large bar in the left-most room. One of those “Yeah they can’t make this today” types of dark wood bars that just oozes character and stories from it’s woodgrain.
The full restaurant actually occupies four store fronts, with three of them visible to the public as dining areas.
So that first left most section is the main entrance and where the bar is located. There are a couple TVs in the room as well as a take-out beer fridge.
The article I found from 1996 has a quote from a local gentleman saying the ornate wooded bar is over 100 years old! I am searching, but I can’t find the history yet on the bar or where it came from!
When I visited the flooring was ripped up, soon to be replaced with a new covering, and as I mentioned there is paint going up on the walls.
Rich says the bar is staying in place and they may add some extra shelving in front of the wall length back mirrors, to show off the forthcoming liquor offerings.
Rich sees the bar area as the “pre-dinner warmup, grab a couple drinks before being seated for dinner type” of area. But with a couple televisions in the right places, it’s easy to see this as being a fun but quiet place for locals to hang out and catch up on the news or the big game on the televisions.
And how the restaurant is built out as sections works for them in this regard… as the bar is separated by a partition wall but offers a wide entrance up front to enter the dining area.
The second room is expected to be the main dining room. Along the back wall a new partition wall is in place, to separate the kitchen entrance and waitstaff traffic from the diners. This was an suggestion from partner Angelo.
The third section is also used for dining, but because it is configured as it’s own segment so it also is expected to be used for private functions.
During my tour Rich also took me through the back kitchen area which is also being updated and reconfigured to best suit the needs of what is expected to be a very busy restaurant. The layout of the kitchen area… as well as the menu… all under the auspices of chef Nick.
Angelo: High School Principal and Former Nino’s Server
After getting the full tour of the restaurant, the history and concept for Osteria 545… Angelo popped in to the restaurant after a visit to pick up supplies locally.
Angelo’s career and passion is being the Principal at Williamstown High School. A 2019 article in The Sun Newspapers is headlined “I Love Kids”
So let’s be very clear… the day-to-day business operations of Osteria 545 will be Rich, and the kitchen and menu will be Nick.
But there is a very important reason for Angelo being in the picture, lending expertise…
As a younger man and at the start of his teaching career, Angelo was a server at Nino Gervasi’s restaurant!
He tells the story of his first time working at the restaurant… he reluctantly agreed to fill in for a night, not expecting big things from the experience.
But the restaurant then was packed! The people kept coming in! Customers were happy! The food was delicous.
And he made money… more than he expected from his very part-time server experiment.
Well that experiment turned into five years!
And during that time, Angelo paid attention to what worked in Nino’s, and what needed improvement.
That new partition wall to separate the diners from the kitchen? Angelo’s idea.
His experience was that the noise from a busy kitchen, as well as servers moving fast through that area… could take away from quiet dining experience.
But then Angelo was very quick to mention “The kitchen is Nick’s. We’re positioning Nick to focus on what he does best… be an awesome chef”
And what makes Angelo’s philosophy even more interesting is… when I got home and starting researching additional aspects of the story, I found this quote of Angelo’s in the Sun Newspaper.
“My job as a leader is to remove obstacles and let the smart people I’m working with flourish,” he added.Angelo DeStefano, on making his education team successful.
Wow, that fits exactly into how he described his role in Osteria 545!
One last comment on Angelo… well I haven’t fully connected the dots on what brought these three partners together, to a degree Angelo is the center of the partnership.
Chef Nick is the son of Nino and worked at the restaurant, Angelo was a server in the restaurant and became friends with Nick, and Rich and Angelo are cousins. It all fits.
Chef Nick Tomasetto
The third partner in Osteria 545 is Nick Tomasetto, who should be known to many in the 42Freeway area… or at least from his restaurants and delicious food!
Well as mentioned earlier, Nick is the son of Nino, and growing up around the restaurant Nick took on a variety of roles. Nick started out washing dishes, proved that he was capable to grow within the business…and then learned the delicious techniques of Nino’s cooking, eventually becoming the head chef at Nino’s!
Years later Nick started his own restaurants right in the core 42Freeway area… Washington Township’s Arugula and in Deptford, La Polpetta.
Both restaurants gained a quick following with a lot of local buzz… all driven by the delicious food that Nick and his staff would prepare.
During my visit Nick was not on site, but both Rich and Angelo had a ton of positive things to say about Nick and his culinary skills… which is shown by their complete trust in how the kitchen and menu were being developed by Nick!
We can’t wait to meet Nick and try his delicious menu at Osteria 545!
Kevin Smith is a director and actor, famous for movies such as; The Clerks, Jay and Silent Bob, Mallrats, Chasing Amy and more!
And in 2004 he release Jersey Girl starring Jennifer Lopez, Ben Affleck, George Carlin, Liv Tyler and more!
Kevin is a New Jersey guy, and well… the movie is called Jersey girl… so when Kevin was looking for filming locations he chose South Jersey for principle shooting, and Paulsboro was the center of it all!
Kevin was so appreciative of Paulsboro during his filming, held a local premier of the movie at Paulsboro High School!
A 2004 New York Times article called Paulsboro “The Best Movie Performance by a Municipality” as it chronicled the Paulsboro premier.
And how does that connect to the restaurant that will become Osteria 545?
Well that fourth section of the restaurant was set up as storage and offices, and hanging on the wall was this poster from the Paulsboro premier… signed by Kevin Smith himself and giving accolades to Nino.
Nino – Many Thanks For the Fun and Grub!Director and Actor Kevin Smith, to Nino Gervasi regarding his Paulsboro Restaurant.
Paulsboro Plaza: A Rebirth
This turned into quite a long post, didn’t it? So many stories to tell!
So as I mentioned, in the last few years a Save-A-Lot and a Dollar Tree store opened in the shopping center.
The shopping center is seeing new life after a couple of decades looking like it was more suited for the wrecking ball than rebirth.
Originally the center was home to an Acme Supermarket, an Ames discount store, a Thrift Drugs Pharmacy and a variety of smaller locally owned stores.
But in the early to mid 90s the Ames chain closed, and then the Acme shuttered the Paulsboro location.
In my years of travel to Paulsboro for my former day job, I always remembered it as an abandoned retail center.
A 2017 NJ.com article calls out the first success, when former Acme was planned to become Save-A-Lot.
There is still a large part of the center that needs some love.. the former Ames section.
Construction fencing is currently up around the parking area of that former Ames building, at it is targeted to be redeveloped also. We’ll have more on that in a subsequent post.
Links And Location
Osteria 545 – Targeted Opening December 2021
545 W Broad Street