BERRIEN SPRINGS — A longtime Berrien Springs institution has been transformed into a new restaurant that pays tribute to both local history and the legacy of its former owners.
Town Hall Pizza opened in late February in the location long occupied by Roma’s Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant.
New owners Sam Barrington and Jannae Gee bought the restaurant from Roma’s owners Tony and Glayne Macerata in November and have been learning the business ever since. They credit the Maceratas for helping them get established and being there to answer questions and share their wisdom.
“Tony worked with us for a month to teach us the recipes,” Barrington said. “A lot of his recipes go back to Italy. He and his brother were born in Dragoni, Italy, and then came to the United States. They opened the restaurant here on Oct. 18, 1969.
“We’re humbled by the reception we’ve received and a greater appreciation for what we received,” he said. “We were strangers to them and they’ve been nothing but kind.”
This is a first-time restaurant business venture for South Bend residents Barrington and Gee. The two have been friends and co-workers for a number of years and decided to come together for this new venture when both were looking to change careers.
The two come to the business with different skill sets.
Barrington worked for years in the nonprofit sector while Gee’s background is in graphic design and social work.
“We were looking to buy a business and Jennae found this restaurant for sale,” Barrington said. “Tony wanted to retire after 49 years.”
Gee noted they wanted a turnkey operation where they could come in and hit the ground running. “It’s hard to find something that’s turnkey, that just needs a new vision and energy,” she said.
The two said they’ve come to realize how much Roma’s has meant to the Berrien Springs community.
“It’s been exciting to us,” Barrington said. “We have customers come in who remember back decades. We’ve realized how indebted we are to the Maceratas. It would take us years to build the customer base we have.”
Barrington and Gee said they aren’t changing the essence of what made Roma’s successful, including the pizza dough and different sauces. What they are doing is expanding the menu and hours to better meet the wishes of the customers.
The expanded menu includes more sandwiches and specialty pizzas, including seven different kinds of gelato desserts and cannolis. The lunch menu has calzones, soups, salads and pizza by the slice. They offer five different kinds of pizza every day including vegetarian, alfredo and tomato-based pizzas.
They’ve expanded the restaurant hours to include being open one more day during the week and offering lunch four days a week. Roma’s was open from 4-8 p.m. hours Wednesday through Sunday. Town Hall Pizza is now open on Tuesdays as well.
They said takeout is still the biggest part of the business, although the dine-in option is getting to be more popular and should be even more so after they redesign the dining area.
“We’re growing every day,” Barrington said.
Another part of what attracted Barrington and Gee to the former Roma’s was the local history they discovered when they toured the building. The building’s second story includes a two-bedroom apartment and what was once the village’s town hall dating back to the 1860s.
It was the latter discovery that served as the inspiration for their restaurant name.
“We became totally interested in Berrien Springs history,” Barrington said.
Gee said they’ve discovered intriguing bits of local history, including a list of early residents who participated in community activities and an 1885 playbill for a play presented on the town hall stage.
“We’ve become totally captivated by not only the Macerata family history, but also the story of the village’s town hall,” Barrington said. “It was a civic gathering place and a place for entertainment. This building has been a restaurant for 89 years.”
They hope to showcase some of the town’s history in coming weeks and months as they redo the dining area. They plan to take out the dropped ceilings, restore the walls to brick and show some vintage pictures and items they’ve found.