Alberto: a culinary survivor in a 2012 economy
by Michael Perlman
Mar 14, 2012 | 4261 views | 1 1 comments | 51 51 recommendations | email to a friend | print

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In an age of corporate chains that make some New York City neighborhoods a mirror image of each other and cause some small businesses to close shop in a harsh economy, Forest Hills retains few old-time mom-and-pop favorites.

These businesses offer classic style and have passionate owners who personalize their patrons’ experience. They make a commitment to community and embrace longevity and the “beauty is in the detail.”

As the owners of Alberto at 98-31 Metropolitan Avenue, brother and sister duo Roberto and Silvana Chiappelloni provide those ingredients in abundance. Alberto offers fine northern Italian cuisine in an elegant ambiance, befriends its patrons, and adapts to tastes old and new.

Roberto attended culinary school in Italy and worked in stages in Italy, Geneva, London, and then aboard the Holland America Line. He visited a relative in Brooklyn, who encouraged him to open a restaurant. As a 23 year-old tennis buff, he visited Forest Hills and had a vision.

Meanwhile, Silvana worked for a golf club in Geneva, where her family ran a famed restaurant.

Alberto has been in operation since 1975, but began where Da Silvana once sat on Yellowstone Boulevard. In 1977, it moved to a larger space on Metropolitan Avenue. Formerly a stark white pizzeria, over the years the Chiappelloni's went antiquing.

A carved wooden bar took the place of an ice cream counter, and an elegant wood front replaced generic aluminum, and chandeliers rumored to have come from the Criminal Courthouse in Brooklyn were hung from the ceilings. What would later become the Alberto logo is a Gothic stained glass window rescued from a dismantled church.

It is a suspended focal element that separates the front bar area from the spacious table-clothed dining room. Two decades ago, the Chiappellonis exposed rustic brick walls and lifted the dropped ceiling to reveal rare 3x12 wood rafters, most remarkably from the site’s rumored knitting mill days circa 1928.

Succeeding in business is Alberto’s only option. Fortunately, Alberto owns the real estate, so self-serving landlords who raise the rent is not an obstacle.

“Competition is the best form of advertising,” says Silvana. “If you have a great product, people will return. Our clientele chooses us during the toughest economic times, on the basis of our quality of food and experience.

“Enormous joy keeps me in business against the odds,” she continues. “You must love what you do. We give up all holidays, and spend 12 to 15 hours per day at work. I want to encourage young people to have passion, which starts with a dream. There are so many unemployed, so work hard, since it’s great being your own boss.”

Dedication and passion are part of the Chiappelloni recipe.

“What drives me is joy and feedback from customers,” explains Silvana. “When I see beautiful families, it eliminates all negative energy. I have seen four generations celebrating life. We live in a world where everything is changing, but if you have a good foundation of family, the new generation improves, and carries on values, passion, and love.”

Commitment is evident in authenticity, customization, and variety. Alberto offers dishes inspired by the Lombardy, Liguarian, and Emilio-Romagna provinces, with approximately 175 award-winning wines.

Alberto’s clientele is widespread.

“When Alberto first opened in the 1970s, not too many people knew of Metropolitan Avenue, but now it is ‘restaurant and antiques row,’” says Silvana. “In the last decade, there’s lots of young people and diverse ethnic groups, and longtime customers.”

Alberto is popular for private parties, and 30-plus patrons are accommodated according to their financial needs. Frequent celebrations are baptisms, baby & bridal showers, birthdays, and anniversaries. OpenTable reservations are made online. Birthday card promos and gift certificates are also available.

To survive in a harsh economy, small businesses always need to take customer feedback, and create beyond basic business models. Alberto is a place where soul lives in its food and personality, and is a cornerstone for generations.

Alberto's hours of operation are Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 5 to 10:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 4 to 11:30 p.m.; and Sunday from 4 to 10:30 p.m. For more information, call (718) 268-7860, visit Albertorestaurant.com, or “like” their Facebook page.

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traveler123
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March 15, 2012
This is definitely a place to visit while visiting NYC :)