Bertolone family turns over reins to Joe’s Italian restaurant
By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor
ALABASTER – After her father, Giuseppe Bertolone, died in March 2013, Joe’s Italian owner Sonia Bertolone-Carillo didn’t have much time to mourn his passing.
“We didn’t have much of an opportunity to grieve because we were working all the time,” Bertolone-Carillo said of her family, noting they regularly put in 90 or more hours operating the restaurant each week. “When we opened the restaurant, I never anticipated it would hit $2 million in sales at $7 a plate.”
Joe Bertolone was born in Sicily, Italy, and moved to California with his wife, Elvira, in 1977 before opening the original Joe’s Italian restaurant in Gilroy, Calif. in 1981.
The Bertolones sold their California restaurant in 2007 and moved to Shelby County to be closer to their daughters, Mary Bertolone and Bertolone-Carrillo.
The Bertolones’ son, Michael, moved to Shelby County shortly thereafter, and Bertolone-Carrillo and Michael Bertolone opened the Alabaster Joe’s Italian off Weatherly Club Drive in 2009.
While Bertolone-Carillo said she was “extremely grateful” to residents in Alabaster and the Birmingham metro area for their support of Joe’s Italian over the past several years, she said the family decided to hand the restaurant’s reins over to another company in late 2014.
The family finalized the sale with Clean Plate Restaurants Inc. in September 2014, but stayed involved with the restaurant’s day-to-day operations until March of this year, Bertolone-Carillo said. The family also closed its Montevallo crossroads location off Alabama 119 in December 2014, she said.
“After dad died, we just couldn’t do it anymore,” Bertolone-Carillo said of managing the restaurants. “One of the reasons we opened the restaurant several years ago was to keep him active.”
Bertolone-Carillo praised Clean Plate Restaurants for retaining all of the restaurant’s employees, and for working to ensure a “smooth transition” for customers and employees.
In addition to Joe’s, Clean Plate also owns Carmines Pie House in Jacksonville, Fla., Vincent’s Italian restaurant in Atlanta, Sono in Raleigh, N.C., and several other highly rated restaurants across the nation.
“They are very reputable. They only own high-profile, four-star-or-above restaurants,” Bertolone-Carillo said.
During a July 20 phone interview, Clean Plate CEO Wood Chatham said the company has worked to “respect the tradition the (Bertolone) family established” at Joe’s Italian.
“That’s our goal,” Chatham said, noting the restaurant has seen strong sales and customer support since the transition. “I can’t speak highly enough of (current Joe’s Italian General Manager) John Paul Gogan. He is a very good leader.”
Since stepping away from the restaurant in March, Bertolone-Carillo said the Bertolone family has been relaxing and pursuing other endeavors. Michael Bertolone’s wife, Cynthia, is planning to open the Cake Art by Cynthia bakery in the North Pelham Plaza off U.S. 31.
“The community has backed us through everything,” Bertolone-Carillo said. “It was really hard to let it go.”