Jimmy Bellas grew up in the restaurant business. “In 1949 my Dad opened his first diner. Many years and diners later, he opened a landmark waterfront restaurant on Long Island.”
As a kid, Jimmy washed dishes, cleaned silverware, and bussed tables. “I studied Restaurant and Hotel Management in college, and when I graduated, ran the restaurant with my Dad.” Upon his retirement, the restaurant closed and Jimmy opened his own place, a small Italian bistro nearby, where he met his wife Karen and later married.
“The restaurant business is wonderful, but the hours are difficult. I remember witnessing the toll it took on my family. I made a promise to myself that when I got married, I’d sell. So I did that same year.”
After a 20+ year career in corporate America, Jimmy still found the restaurant business to be in his blood. He’d often sit around the family table regaling his wife and sons, Nico and LJ, with nostalgic stories. “Maybe someday we'll open up a little place.” One evening at the table Nico looked at Karen and I and said, ‘Why don't you just do it?” As it turned out, the timing was perfect.
They opened Sorriso Kitchen, a charming eatery in Chatham that serves a creative menu of breakfast and lunch items including an award-winning burger, which you can enjoy with a cold beer (it’s a BYOB.) The food is amazingly fresh and much of it comes from local farms in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Their son LJ, who has Down Syndrome, was truly the inspiration for the business and its name as they wanted to give him a place to work after graduation. Sorriso, means “smile” in Italian. Karen, a creative director, designed the restaurant and everything about it. “It’s been wonderful having our family working together” says Jimmy.
Mondays, when the restaurant is closed, classes are held for special needs students to learn restaurant skills. “We are passionate about serving quality food, service and supporting this community,” To expand the program and encourage other businesses to do the same, he and Karen have started a charitable foundation. “We’re so excited!” he says. “We'll be able to support this type of program and even seed and create new ones to support employment of the developmentally disabled.”
“This all feels so meant to be” says Jimmy. His advice to others who are thinking about taking the leap into a new career: “Follow your passion, but be sure that the leap you're taking is one that's going to continuously provide you the love for what you're doing.”