As with any large endeavor, there were no doubt moments of great soul-searching when Robert Minniti opened his popular Bacio restaurant nearly seven years ago in Cinnaminson.
Bacio, a master chef graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., had sharpened his cooking skills working in Atlantic City, where high rollers seek out quality food.
“After graduation, I worked at the Taj Mahal and Harrah’s Casinos,” says Minniti, who graduated culinary school in 1997.
At Harrah’s, he worked at the white-tableclothed Florentino’s restaurant, now closed, with top-notch cooks and talented food preparers, leading the restaurant to a plethora of raving reviews.
While working at Florentino’s, Minniti, with an eye for business and taste for good food, opened Bacio restaurant in a small strip mall on Route 130.
“There were a couple of years of overlap," says Minniti, “It was a busy time, but I wanted to create my own path.”
Minniti went on to achieve something special – local acclaim and a fiercely loyal following. The restaurant was in demand, and a smiling Minniti was always in the kitchen. Staffers always found a table for neighborhood drop-ins, making patrons continually feel warmly welcomed, akin to being reunited with a long lost relative.
So, it should only follow that Minniti’s , which opened three years ago on Main Street in Moorestown, became an instant smash.
“I wanted to do something that was fun, something a little different than what I was doing at the restaurant,” says Minniti, 38, and who hails from Cinnaminson. “But, I never estimated that it would grow so quickly.”
When Minniti opened Bacio Catering & Marketplace, the idea was to make the outlet part farm market, part catering, and part bistro.
The market sells freshly prepared salads, Bacio sauces and soups, and the famous chicken cutlets. Vegetables and fruits are locally grown. Signature sandwiches charm the lunch crowd. Brides swear by the delectable catering menu.
Word of mouth caught on quickly, and business swelled.
With two intimate destinations that ranked among the more popular dining destinations in the area, Minniti, along with his wife Pamela, 33, had set the bar high and didn’t want to compromise the food quality standards valued by their customers.
“A restaurant is like a toddler. You can’t turn your back on it," says Minniti. “My business model was to be the chef and owner and be visible.”
Indeed. So, after seven years, and after must contemplation, Minniti closed his Cinnaminson restaurant last month.
Now, Minniti and his staff are focusing on maintaining a fresh and vibrant commissary in his singular sensation.
This year, in addition to the popular $6 lunches, Minniti, started doing bistro nights – farm to fork dinners, tapas nights and cooking classes.
“I’m trying different ideas with good food,” says Minniti. “It’s about serving distinctive cuisines and menus.”
The marketplace can also accommodate up to 25 people for a tasteful chef’s table dinner, when Chef Robert prepares a custom menu and cooks exclusively.
And, on Friday, Aug. 12, the chef is grilling.
“It will be our first gourmet barbecue night,” says Minniti.
The menu will consist of four courses – an arugula salad with corn and shrimp, a barbequed-slider sampler, filet and fresh tuna with vegetables, and tiramisu cake for dessert.
Patrons are asked to bring two of their favorite six-packs of micro-brewed beer, one to imbibe, and one to share with fellow diners “to connect with each other.”
The cost for the event is $25 per person. Call to make reservations at 856-780-5402, and upcoming Bacio events are listed here.
"I'm doing things to make people happy," says Minniti. "I like satisfying my customers."