Cafe Jordano continues its three-decade authentic Italian heritage in Lakewood

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Nearly thirty years after co-founding Cafe Jordano in Lakewood, Elisa Heitman moved the restaurant from its small storefront to a larger unit next door at 11068 West Jewell Avenue. “Some people say, ‘I miss the little hole in the wall,'” she said. “I’m like, ‘I don’t.'”

Now, just over four years after the move, Heitman is proud of the way Cafe Jordano has grown, gushing over its “functionality” and more professional look, including an updated kitchen and more place for regulars. The neighborhood staple was born from humble beginnings when Heitman, who was born in Italy, and her ex-husband decided to start a restaurant after falling in love with the industry following a string of gigs “boring”.

“I liked it. I barely spoke English and got really good advice because everyone loved the accent and the fact that I barely understood,” she recalled. “It was he A long time ago.” When they were “young and crazy” with “no money,” the couple opened Cafe Jordano with a little help from Heitman’s mother: $12,000.

Click to enlarge

Cafe Jordano moved to its current location just over four years ago.

Nate Day

“At that time, you could do that, you know?” Heitman talks about the business venture of the early 90s. “Because at that time the idea of ​​opening a restaurant and being small and not so fancy was acceptable. Now they’re doing these 5 million builds dollars, and they go bankrupt a year later because they can’t afford the payment.

Heitman remembers putting lights that only cost $12.99 on the walls and lining the empty spaces with photos of his family because they had such a small decorating budget. These days, photos of Heitman’s father and grandfather still hang on the walls, but now they’re joined by photos of Heitman’s children, grandchildren, and niece.

“Everyone said, ‘You can’t do it, you don’t have running costs, you need at least a year’,” she recalls. Luckily, thanks to a helpful friend and her own hard work, Cafe Jordano “got busy” and took off quickly.

“We brought in a different concept, which is now an old concept,” she says of how the restaurant became popular in the 90s. “When we started thirty years ago, we were doing stir-fries — no one was making stir fries! It was a downtown thing. No one in the suburbs – they did lasagna, ravioli and pizza, so we brought in a new concept.

She adds that every once in a while she thinks her concept is getting stale, but she just can’t bring herself to change anything. “People would kill me,” she jokes. “I have people who have been coming here for thirty years. I have three generations. I have guests who were children then and who come with their babies now.

Click to enlarge Cafe Jordano is decorated with photos of owner Elisa Heitman's family in Italy.  - NATE DAY

Cafe Jordano is decorated with photos of owner Elisa Heitman’s family in Italy.

Nate Day

The menu is filled with authentic Italian dishes like parmigiana de melezane (eggplant parmesan), penne vodka and sliced ​​sausage gnocchi. Of course, there are plenty of antipasti offerings, as well as chicken and fish dishes. Notably, the restaurant also offers buffalo dishes – an alternative to veal that was used during the early days of Cafe Jordano. The move caught the restaurant’s attention across the country. “A lot of people say, ‘There are no bison in Italy.’ I go, ‘They’ve got water buffaloes,'” Heitman said. “Besides, that’s not the point. We’re in America.

Many of the recipes come from Heitman’s home in Naples, but others are “sort of fusions” that her ex-husband helped create. Most dishes have been on the menu for the entire 31-year life of Cafe Jordano, with changes occurring only very rarely. “We are not changing the menu. We are not one of those restaurants,” insists Heitman. “We do a special every day.”

Staff changes are not very common either, with a number of staff having been in their positions for many years – one for almost 30 years, while the head cook has been there for 27 years.

“I think we’ve always been affordable,” Heitman says of what’s kept Cafe Jordano in business for more than three decades. “We were in the middle of the road. We weren’t fancy, we weren’t cheap. Pasta dishes cost between $14.25 and $15.50, chicken dishes $16.50, and bison dishes are only a dollar more.

“I think we were in the right place, plus they say the food is good and we know everyone,” she adds. “We have a lot of community support.” With business booming, Heitman plans to give Jordano coffee “at least ten more years” before considering his next step.

“Who knows?” she says of the restaurant’s future, hinting that it might stay in the family, but that’s ultimately a decision for another day. “I tell people — I’ll tell you — catering, if you have a passion, it’s hard. If you don’t have a passion, it’s hell. I have the passion. For me, it’s not work. I love it.”

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