Caron, Gold see success at Nino’s

Published 5:53 pm Tuesday, August 23, 2011

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

When Walter Caron and his good friend Eli Gold decided to open a restaurant together in Pelham, they knew they would have to set their differing opinions on SEC football aside.

Caron, a Bronx, N.Y., native and Auburn fan, and Gold, the voice of the Alabama Crimson Tide, don’t always see eye-to-eye on Saturdays in the fall. But they do agree on other things.

“The truth is, we really don’t talk a lot of football. We talk a lot of Yankees baseball,” Caron said. “I hope Alabama wins 11 games every year, just not that last one.

“We don’t have any Alabama or Auburn things hanging up in the restaurant,” Caron added. “We are all fans of Italian food.”

Over the years, Caron has managed several Italian restaurants. But he said he always dreamed of opening his own restaurant in the Birmingham area.

When Caron met Gold, who grew up in Brooklyn, several years ago, the two quickly became good friends and began discussing going into business together.

A little more than two years ago, the two were searching for vacant buildings to house the restaurant along U.S. 31 in Pelham when they discovered a former Shoney’s building near Pee Wee’s Pawn shop.

“We actually drove by the building three times and didn’t even see it,” Caron said. “We pulled over and looked in the window, and Eli said ‘Isn’t it a little big?’

“I said ‘I don’t know, this building just feels right,’ and we just ran with it,” said Caron, who currently lives in Birmingham. “Pelham is a great town. This is where I want to come live, and this is where I want to locate my business.”

After Gold and Caron purchased the building, they struggled to come up with a name. When Caron threw out the name of one of his closest family members, the eatery had its identity.

“We were all sitting around trying to decide what to call the restaurant. We wanted something simple and catchy,” he said. “My uncle Nino practically raised me, and someone jokingly said ‘Let’s call it Uncle Nino’s.’

“I thought Uncle Nino’s sounded too much like a meat-and-three, so we shortened it to Nino’s,” Caron added.

Today, restaurant patrons pass a large picture of “uncle Nino” in the vestibule every time they walk through the door.

The restaurant, which Caron described as “semi-self-serve,” is set up to handle 150 patrons, and includes a menu of nearly every Italian dish imaginable. Nearly everything on the menu is made from scratch at the restaurant, and Caron said the staff always works to create a family friendly atmosphere.

The upcoming football season will feature a few additions to the menu, such as draft beer and pizza wings, which are hot wings covered in pizza sauce and parmesan cheese.

Over the past two years, the restaurant has garnered a loyal customer base, and has seen success even in the face of a down economy.

“We are holding our own in this economy,” Caron said. “Keeping your head above water is succeeding today.”