Sunset Cafe serves up Italian fare for 80 years in Greensburg

| Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 7:17 p.m.

Bob and Anna Jo Noviello knew the time had come to change the look of their Greensburg landmark on South Urania Avenue.

The establishment is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year.

Over an approximately three-year period, the owners of the Sunset Cafe revamped the interior of the restaurant, then tackled the outside of the building.

“We thought it was time to do a major face-lift to the front of our business and create a nicer atmosphere for our customers,” Bob Noviello said.

The third-generation owners of the business plan to hold an outdoor block party from 1 to 8 p.m. on Sept. 14 to celebrate the anniversary and remodeling.

“Fair” foods such as sausage hoagies and pizza will be on the menu that day and sold outside the business, Anna Jo Noviello said.

The owners completed the exterior work earlier this summer. Workers added new stone to the lower half of the building, new siding, new windows and new signs.

Anna Jo Noviello said she was glad to get rid of street-level opaque block windows that once kept potential customers from looking inside. The block windows might have given passersby the impression that the business was only a bar, she said.

Inside, workers revamped the first-floor dining rooms, including the replacement of wooden paneling with plastered walls. They added new lighting, bench seating, a new foyer, a new waiting area and stacked stones for ambiance.

When workers replaced the bar, the work unearthed some bygone surprises, Anna Jo Noviello recalled.

They uncovered old menus, aspirin packets, bills and other items that since have been added to two display boxes in the cafe.

“It was just really unique stuff,” Anna Jo Noviello said. “It's kind of like a time capsule.”

The business' history started back in 1933, during the challenges brought by the Great Depression.

Bob Noviello's grandparents, Peter and Elvira Pantalone, operated a neighborhood mom-and-pop grocery on the current site, where they also lived and raised seven children. Peter Pantalone operated a shoe-repair business in the building.

The couple decided to take a chance and branch out into selling spaghetti and pizza.

They transformed their living space into a cozy dining area, and Elvira Pantalone began cooking up her recipes.

For one week, she served spaghetti to neighbors and guests free of charge, hoping for good feedback about her pasta, according to family lore.

Soon after, the Sunset Café was officially opened and began selling Italian cuisine in Greensburg.

Bob Noviello said his grandmother, in particular, inspired the notion of getting into the food business.

Over time, the family put a half-dozen tables outside for customers. A later addition was used by dancers during the Big Band craze in the 1940s, he said.

“They packed the place,” Bob Noviello said.

Elvira Pantalone continued to operate the business into her 80s before she died in 1976.

Bob Noviello's brother, Jerry, bought the business from the estate, and he operated the restaurant until he sold it to Bob Noviello and his mother, Emily, in the 1980s.

Emily Noviello got out of the business later that decade, and her son and his wife began operating it by themselves, expanding the menu, Bob Noviello said.

One Google review praised its extensive gluten-free diet. One of Sunset's 1,432 Facebook fans said she has been going there 44 years, while another praised its crabcakes.

Alongside traditional fare like homemade plates of spaghetti with or without meatballs ($12-$14) and stuffed beef braciole ($20), the menu features delicacies such as spice-encrusted scallops ($28) with citrus buerre blanc, lemon risotto and a vegetable. Discounts are offered on pasta and pizzas on designated nights throughout the week, and wine specials are offered Tuesdays.

Noviello said he and his wife had no choice but to remodel the business at an undisclosed cost.

“We wanted to make it more enticing and inviting,” he explained. “It was a lot of expense for us but it was something we needed to do.”

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or bstiles@tribweb.com.

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