Mama’s Cafe Baci
From modest strip-mall pizza shop to diversified, full-service restaurant with a boutique wedding venue, this business has surged ahead by light years since its 1970 launch.
When merchant marine Antonio Schiano relocated his family from a small town outside Naples, Italy, to the United States, he was looking forward to a better life. His brother had just opened up a small pizza shop in a strip mall in Hackettstown, New Jersey, called Mama’s Cafe Baci. “My father moved knowing that he wanted to help with the business,” says Thomas Schiano, Antonio’s son and current owner with his brother, Luigi. “He worked 12- to 14-hour days, but it was better than being away for a month or two as a merchant marine. Within a few years, my uncle moved on, my father bought out the business, and my brother and I dove in.”
Always saving money to expand, the family plotted careful but impressive growth: By 1985, the business moved to the corner spot in a five-store plaza across the street, and many expansions later, eventually encompassed the entire plaza. Antonio semi-retired in 1990, sticking around to provide guidance as his sons worked to elevate the business further. “We wanted to be on the forefront, without losing touch with our roots and who we were,” Thomas explains. “My parents passed on integrity and hard work. My father always said, ‘Everyone can do what we do, but the difference is customer service.’”
The Mama’s Cafe Baci focus on customer service extends to those with special diets; it has been a gluten-free hotspot for 15 years and offers vegan and vegetarian menus. The unique concept of Duets—two dishes paired to provide a familiar food with something more experimental—now comprises 60% of sales. Once only pizza and sandwiches, the full-service restaurant now offers an extensive menu, while Mama’s 201 Fifth Bar serves up libations alongside nightly live entertainment. Less than 15 miles away, a boutique venue, Bello Giorno Estate, hosts weddings and other events in intimate, Italian-style surroundings.
The restaurant has grown to more than 40 employees, including two sons of Thomas and Luigi, bringing in the third generation to serve families who’ve remained loyal through three or four generations themselves. Mama’s Cafe Baci has received awards for its give-back community efforts, while Thomas often doles out pro bono advice to aspiring business owners at lunch meetings. “I believe there has to be family involvement,” Thomas says. “The crop doesn’t grow without the farmer’s footsteps; you need sacrifices and commitment. A hundred things have to be right before you even cook your first meal. I can have weekends off now, but it’s been 50 years—and I don’t take them off. I always plan on being here.”
Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor.