Tavolo Pronto in Fair Haven: This is how it became a delicious success

Susan Bloom
Special to Asbury Park Press

FAIR HAVEN - Moving to New Jersey 25 years ago from her native Staten Island, Patti Balderas, now co-owner of Tavolo Pronto in Fair Haven, always felt a connection to the restaurant industry.

“My father was a New York City detective, but he was also an entrepreneur who owned a number of food-related businesses, including a candy store, a luncheonette and a tavern,” said Red Bank resident Balderas, 52.

After graduating from college at the State University of New York at Albany, “I was preparing to go to law school and was working as a waitress and bartender to pay for it, but I fell in love with the restaurant business instead,” she said. “I loved the pace, the camaraderie and the process of providing a service for customers who appreciated and enjoyed it.”

Patti Balderas makes carrot cake from scratch at Tavolo Pronto, an Italian bistro, bakery and market in Fair Haven that serves daily specials, made-to-order take-home meals and school lunch menus.

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Though she worked in publishing sales for a short time after college, “I thought that I’d like to have my own restaurant someday and attended culinary school at New York Restaurant School (now the Art Institute of New York City), where I specialized in pastry,” said Balderas, who subsequently worked at multiple places, including the Ryland Inn in Whitehouse Station, the Hilton in East Brunswick, Panasonic headquarters in Newark and Amy’s Breads in New York City.

She also worked at Basil T’s in Red Bank, where she ultimately met husband Arturo, who worked as a line cook there as well as at Tavolo in Long Branch, another eatery within the owners’ network of restaurants.

“In 2007, the owners opened Tavolo Pronto in Fair Haven and Arturo and I loved the whole concept of that place — it translates to “table ready” in Italian and offers a range of casual prepared foods that enable customers to get in and out conveniently,” she said.

“Arturo and I had always wanted to own a restaurant together and thought that Tavolo Pronto would be perfect for us, so we reached out to the owners about buying it,” Balderas said. The owners agreed to sell it to them and Tavolo Pronto officially opened under the Balderas’ ownership in September 2010.

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Arturo Balderas slices up some calimari at his shop, Tavolo Pronto, an Italian bistro, bakery and market in Fair Haven that serves daily specials, made-to-order take-home meals and school lunch menus.

Something for everyone

Open every day from 7 a.m. until either 8 or 10 p.m., “we offer coffee, cappuccino, fresh baked goods including muffins, scones, pound cake, Danish and crostata, and fabulous breakfast items such as omelettes, gourmet egg sandwiches, yogurt parfaits, overnight oats and chia pudding,” Balderas said of the cozy 2,500-square-foot establishment.

“We also offer 30 different kinds of paninis, sandwiches and wraps (all typically priced from $8 to $10), delicious grab-and-go salads and salad specials with grilled shrimp and chicken and freshly-made gourmet pizzas in our pizza oven (priced at $10 to $14),” she said.

According to Balderas, customers enjoy such grab-and-go favorites as Tavolo Pronto’s spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parmigiana, ravioli, lasagna, and other pastas as well as their hot prepared dinners for four, which include bread, salad, an entrée, pasta or vegetables and cannolis for $60.

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“Our customers are local residents who work, don’t always have the time to cook, and appreciate the ability to get great options for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” she said.

In addition to offering both take-out as well as dine-in ability, Tavolo Pronto offers a number of other popular conveniences. Among those, “we do daily school lunch delivery, delivering as many as 250 lunches to Fair Haven’s elementary and middle school students on Fridays (our most popular day for that service), and also offer house accounts,” Balderas said.

The restaurant additionally hosts or caters private parties, offers special BYOB dinner service on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights between 6 and 10 p.m., and operates a satellite concession stand at the Ship Ahoy Beach Club in Sea Bright from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

A pizza ready for an eat in customer at Tavolo Pronto, an Italian bistro, bakery and market in Fair Haven that serves daily specials, made-to-order take-home meals and school lunch menus.

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Among trends, Balderas noted that today’s increasingly food-savvy consumers enjoy the variety of great salads and other healthy options offered at their restaurant.  

“We’ve also seen a growing demand for gluten-free muffins, breads, pizzas, chicken fingers and pasta items to support a range of different health issues and preferences,” she said. “Our customers are health-conscious and appreciate that we use the freshest, best-quality ingredients and make everything from scratch on our premises.”

 

Tavolo Pronto’s convenient location, outstanding food and exceptional service are among the many things that have driven customer Kelly Tambaro’s loyalty over the years.

“The food at Tavolo Pronto is delicious and their team is so kind and always makes you feel welcome and comfortable,” said Tambaro, a Fair Haven resident, former teacher and mother of three who said that Tavolo Pronto has become an important part of her family’s lives.

“In addition to the great prepared meals they offer every day and their nice sit-down dinners on the weekends, my daughter Julia worked at their Ship Ahoy satellite, my daughter Grace had her confirmation party there, and they deliver lunch to my sixth-grade son, Arthur,” Tambaro said, noting that someone in her family probably frequents the restaurant once a day. “It’s a wonderful neighborhood eatery that you can feel great about supporting and where there’s truly something for everyone.”

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Tavolo Pronto, a nine-year-old all-Italian bistro, bakery and market in Fair Haven that serves daily specials, made-to-order take-home meals and school lunch menus.

Community friendly

While they're excited to have built such a successful business, Balderas acknowledged that staffing can be challenging and the work hours are long. “It can definitely be hard to have our own family time,” said Balderas, who has two teenage sons with Arturo, but they figure out how to make it work.

“Tavolo Pronto’s casual format has been a great fit for our family and our kids can come and go,” she said. And while there are other competing food businesses in the area, she added, “none are as comprehensive as we are.”

With Arturo covering chef duties, Balderas serving as a pastry chef with a sous-chef and also managing marketing, financial, payroll, and other back-office operations, and the support of over two dozen employees, the owners look forward to exploring new opportunities. 

Among those, “Arturo is from Mexico City and we’d love to expand into Mexican cuisine in the future,” Balderas said.

For now, however, “we love being a very community-friendly destination that serves generations of families,” she said.

For Balderas, “it’s rewarding to be able to do what we love — cooking and baking — and see our customers enjoy it or hear them tell us that our food was the best they’ve ever had,” she said. “We love knowing our customers and seeing their kids grow up and we love that our community relies on us for great food in a comfortable setting.”

As she and her husband approach their 10th year as owners of Tavolo Pronto this September, she added, “we’re proud that our family business has evolved into something really special.”

"Tavolo Pronto," a nine-year-old all-Italian bistro, bakery, and market in Fair Haven that serves daily specials, made-to-order take-home meals, and school lunch menus.

Tavolo Pronto

Location: 610 River Road, Fair Haven

Phone: 732-741-6009

Owner: Patti and Arturo Balderas

Opened: 2007; under the Balderases’ ownership since 2010

Website: www.tavulopronto.com