A friendly atmosphere with muted lighting and white tablecloths greets diners at downtown Tiffin's newest Italian restaurant, Guiseppe's Italian Ristorante.
The eatery, at 120 S. Washington St., opened Feb. 26 with no fanfare to allow owners Joe and Michele Curatti and their staff to ease into serving customers and become accustomed to operating a restaurant.
"It seems to be going well, especially since we haven't advertised," Joe said. "We kind of wanted to do a slow startup so we didn't get blown out of the water."
It didn't exactly happen that way.
The only advertising they did was to distribute menus to downtown businesses. But the restaurant was full the first Friday and Saturday it was open.
"The first few days, we were kind of nervous," Michele said. "It was crazy, but it's been great."
"It's better than we anticipated," Joe agreed.
The restaurant idea got started after Joe lost his job during the recent economic downturn after almost 30 years in the auto industry.
Michele said Joe had to talk her into it.
"That was just a dream," she said and she remembered thinking. "We could never open a restaurant. We're just us."
But Joe kept driving by the empty restaurant and saw its possibilities.
"We saw this opportunity," he said.
"We just thought, 'Let's do it,' and so we did and here we are," Michele said. "Our cooking is great. People like our cooking otherwise. So we thought we'd try it and see what we could do."
The couple had no restaurant or other business experience, except Michele said they had cooked on occasion for 500 people at a church get-together.
"We know we can do it," she said. "We're good cooks, but doing it order by order is a little different."
She said learning how to form a limited liability company, get a license from the health department, get a vendor's license and a building permit for renovation were all learning experiences.
"Holy cow," Michele said. "That's what we did. We learned a lot."
Part of the learning process was remodeling the restaurant from its former look.
"We worked on it for about two months," Michele said. They closed up the half wall and made a kitchen area and opened up more seating in the dining area, as well as repainting.
"A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this because there was so much to get done," said Joe.
But the couple said they didn't hire anybody to do the work.
"Friends volunteered their time to do construction and painting," Michele said. "No one asked for a penny."
"We did all this ourselves," Joe said. "We didn't hire an outside contractor. But we have friends with contracting experience."
Since they opened, in addition to handling the kitchens, the Curattis take time to visit with customers to introduce themselves and get feedback on food and service.
"Everybody loves our food," Michele said. "No complaints about that. We're really good cooks. I make the best alfredo you'll ever eat."
She said all of the sauces and meatballs are homemade.
One of the features on the menu is a homemade ravioli, which uses chicken broth instead of a tomato sauce.
"It's my husband's grandmother's recipe from Italy, so it's like 100 and some years old," Michele said.
Dinner and lunch menus are similar, but lunch runs 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and dinner from 3-9 p.m. There are no alcohol sales.
"Our No. 1 seller has been the house special (spaghetti)," Joe said. "And No. 2 has been the fried spaghetti."
The house special is $6.95. Lunch prices range from $6.25 to $7.95 for a lunch sandwich. Dinner prices are in the $10-$14 range.
"We tried to keep our prices reasonable," Michele said. "We try to keep them where a family can take their children out to eat."
"A family of four can come in here and eat for under $30," Joe said. "Plus tax, of course."
Joe, originally from Mansfield, and Michele, who grew up in Toledo, have been married 29 years.
"Next June, we're wanting to go to Italy for our anniversary," she said. "That would be really nice."
They have three daughters ranging in age from 28-16, and one grandchild. The youngest daughter is working with her parents in the restaurant.