In 1985, Aldo Lamberti opened his first Italian restaurant in South Jersey. In the decades since, the Aldo Lamberti Family of Restaurants has thrived, growing into a business with six restaurant concepts (all of them Italian) across three cities: Cherry Hill, Philadelphia, and Miami. That kind of longevity teaches you a lot about resilience, a quality the Lamberti family—like everyone else in the restaurant business—relied on to get through one of the most challenging times the industry has ever faced, the COVID-19 pandemic.
We talked to Rosita Lamberti, daughter of Aldo Lamberti and director of restaurants of the group, about the burgeoning restaurant resurgence, resilience, loyalty, and family.
How are your six restaurants different, and what do they have in common?
Each restaurant in the Aldo Lamberti Family of Restaurants is a different concept, but our philosophy is the same across the board. Our goal is to provide the best experience for our guests with high-quality food, service, and atmosphere. No matter which restaurant you visit, we hope you’ll recognize the unique feel of our places. For example, when you walk into Caffe Aldo Lamberti, it’s fine dining. It’s elevated. At Positano Coast, the vibe is a little bit more trendy, a bit more fun. The cuisine is more inventive. Each restaurant has its own personality, but our distinct brand of hospitality unifies all the different concepts.
What did you learn about your business over the course of the pandemic that surprised you?
It has been a year of constant adaptation. Before the pandemic, I never thought that the cuisines at most of our restaurants were good for takeout. But it turns out, I was wrong—delightfully wrong—about that. We were able to pivot and excel at offering takeout.
How do you inspire your team and keep them focused?
We have biweekly meetings with the management teams at all of the restaurants. It helps us stay in tune with each other. We discuss how we’re doing in terms of our goals for the year. This year, our goals are the same ones we set for 2020 because 2020 didn’t really lend itself to chasing ambitious goals. It was more about getting through it. I also pick a word of the year for myself and the business, something to inspire and guide what we do, and I’m repeating last year’s word this year. The word is “uplevel.” I think we did ultimately uplevel in 2020 because we made it. We’re here. And now we’re back to focusing on our big goals for growth and the kind of upleveling I had in mind when I chose that word in late 2019.
What are some things you’ll never forget about that time?
We had some very loyal staff members that stuck with us through the pandemic, helping us transition to takeout and delivery as well as come up with innovative ideas that helped us during that time. There were probably about thirteen of us, in addition to the kitchen staff, that stayed at Caffe Aldo Lamberti. We all worked closely together for over three months, and supported one another through the pandemic. We truly appreciated those who were willing to stay.
I’ll also always remember the leadership my father showed. On March 16, the day they made the announcement that restaurants were going to be shut down, we met with multiple managers from various locations. My father said to everyone, “We are staying open. We’re going to make some changes and switch to takeout and delivery. We will figure out what we need to do and how to do it. We’re going to get through this.” It was inspiring. All of our managers continued to work in some capacity during the months we could not offer dine-in service.
And you know what? The phone started ringing for orders of takeout and delivery right away. Our diners are amazing. They literally said, “Are you open for takeout? I want to support you.” Someone ordered soup every day and would leave a $50 tip. Multiple people did things like this. One of them came knocking at our locked door with a check in hand. He said, “This is for you guys, your staff, share it with the team.” To be honest, I actually got choked up.
Now that things are getting back to normal little by little, what are you most looking forward to?
I recently celebrated a friend’s birthday in Atlantic City. We were all vaccinated. And then the following day our special events coordinator had a bridal shower at Positano Coast and I was invited as a guest. I kept saying, “It feels like 2019 around here.” I mean, two fun events two days in a row! I’m really looking forward to more of that.
In addition, our guests seem happier and more comfortable. There is a sense that things are on the mend. We are heading into a really busy outdoor season. We’ve created multiple outdoor patio spaces, which our guests seem to appreciate. Looking a little further ahead to the last quarter of the year, we expect an amazing holiday season. As a whole, we didn’t get to truly enjoy the holidays in 2020, and our guests are ready to celebrate this year. It’s going to be crazy, it’s going to be busy, but it is going to be really gratifying!