The people who bring their passion for food to us
For more than 25 years, I have had the pleasure of walking into every business in Hammonton and the surrounding area, either for the purpose of generating news or generating revenue through advertising.
Among my favorite businesses—and business owners, and staffs—are the people who bring their passion for food to us as customers each day.
The people who make our local restaurants, food markets or any place people can buy food and drink of any kind are among the finest people I’ve met in my long career. Each day they do their best to create delicious food in a welcoming environment that keeps their patrons coming back for more.
Day in and day out, month in and month out, year in and year out, our local restaurants have maintained a covenant between themselves and their customers. The people who own, operate and staff them do their part by providing consistent, outstanding food, a clean and well-maintained place, with friendly, attentive servers, bartenders and staff who treat you like part of the family. In return, the people who patronize the local restaurants reward them with loyalty.
How loyal? Some local restaurants have served at least three generations of the same families.
Some of my best memories of Hammonton have taken place in restaurants.
I won’t list all the restaurants by name—you can find them listed, along with their advertising, in our Dining Guide that helps kick off The Gazette’s 20th Annual Restaurant Week in Hammonton from February 22 to March 5. What I will do is give you some of my thoughts on why the restaurants in Hammonton and the surrounding area draw so many people all year long.
It’s the people that make these places.
They’re the ones who make the food, that serve the food, that create the atmosphere.
When you’re sitting in a booth or a table or the bar at a restaurant, or walking the aisles of a market, you’re looking for more than something to eat. You’re going out because you want to be around people, to sit and chat with the people at your table or near you. If you are a “regular” you come to know the owner and the staff as well. There’s a certain comfort that comes with walking into a place where the people know you. Remember that song from the TV show “Cheers”?
“You want to go where people know/Troubles are all the same/You want to go where/Everybody knows your name.”
In a world that has shifted so much online, the Hammonton area restaurant community embraces technology to take orders and help manage their business, but when it comes to interpersonal relationships, it is still happily analog. It’s as simple as knowing what drink you like and setting it in font of you as soon as you sit down, or chatting about what’s happening in town, or asking after your family members.
If you think that close connection is still happening everywhere, I suggest you ask your family members and friends who live in other places. They’ll explain to you that human touch was lost some years ago, a victim of changing times and a misguided notion that people didn’t have the time to sit and eat anymore.
In Hammonton, we want to linger with our meals with the people we’re sitting with, in the restaurants we love. Have you ever driven to a restaurant in town or a nearby town, with the idea of what you’ll be having already in your head? Then, when you arrive at the restaurant, the experience is even better than you expected?
Those are the breakfasts, lunches and dinners you never forget. The people in the restaurants, food markets, custard stands, luncheonettes, coffee shops, pizza places, convenience stores, wineries, distilleries and craft breweries all help make your visit pleasurable.
When I was growing up—and into the present day—my mother, Angela Donio, told me and my brothers many stories of the restaurant her father and mother, Frank “Chateau” Bilazzo and Ida Bilazzo owned as Chateau Bilaz from 1965 to 1972. The place, beloved by its customers, was located at the corner of the White Horse Pike and Fairview Avenue. My grandparents, my mother and everyone else who worked there were people who brought their hearts and souls to everything that was done in the restaurant.
I guess that’s why this newspaper holds the people who make the restaurants that so many in the Hammonton of today hold in such high regard. I have some understanding of how much is involved with making the particular magic happen at each place.
Take some time this week and read our Dining Guide and keep it all year long as a reference. Go out and enjoy restaurant week and remember the people who make each restaurant are putting their hearts and souls into everything you buy to eat locally this week, and every week.
Gabriel J. Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.