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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Sept. 15, 2014

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In Dining

Teresa and Tony Balistreri opened Sala da Pranzo in 2001 when they were in their early 20s.

Brother and sister have the recipe for a successful restaurant


When Tony and Teresa Balistreri and their five siblings were growing up in Washington County, the large family ate all of its meals in the kitchen. The Town of Erin home, a converted barn, did not have a dining room.

Perhaps that familiarity with ovens and stoves played a role in Tony and Teresa's decision to go into the risky restaurant business. Together. At a tender age, when most young people are still in school or wrestling with big picture life choices.

The brother and sister opened Sala da Pranzo when he was 22 and she was 24, and the East Side restaurant will celebrate its 10th anniversary Oct. 2. Under any circumstances, survival in the difficult dining industry is a challenge that defeats many business veterans. The Balistreris have weathered two national calamities.

Sala da Pranzo welcomed its first customers only three weeks after Sept. 11, and it has made it through the deepest recession since the Great Depression. Teresa Balistreri says she and her brother never thought of aborting their restaurant dreams as the country went into emotional and financial shock following the terrorist attacks.

"We hung our (exhaust) hood in the kitchen that day (Sept. 11) and we were so tired," she recalls. "We were already so committed to opening, there was no holding back."

Tony and Teresa both began their restaurant careers at 15.

Teresa got a summer job in the deli at the Third Ward Caffe, making salads. She rode into the city from Washington County every day with her mother, who worked nearby. A sister was already waitressing at the restaurant.

Tony got his start working in their uncle's Door County pizzeria the summer he was 15. He was subsequently employed in kitchens at the old Boder's and Club Forest.

By the time they were in their early 20s, the brother and sister knew what they wanted. He would be behind the scenes in the kitchen and she would be managing the front of the restaurant.

"Tony has a knack, the natural ability to cook. I love the energy, the people, the lifestyle of the restaurant business. We both took to it and enjoyed it," Teresa says.

The knack and the enjoyment is probably connected to growing up in that Balistreri barn home.

"There was a culture of food in our family. For a long time we had big extended family dinners on Sundays," Teresa continues. "Both of our parents were excellent cooks."

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Talkbacks

gregryan999 | Jan. 17, 2011 at 1:25 p.m. (report)

I've been there many times and have NEVER been disappointed by either the service or the food. Wonderful outdoor seating in the summer months, too.

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arygiewi | Jan. 17, 2011 at 12:14 p.m. (report)

When my husband took me to this restaurant for the first time, it was the first Italian restaurant in Milwaukee that reminded me of being back in Italy. Comfortable atmosphere, classic food, and great owners. You feel like family! We have been back many times, and will be back many more!

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birdlady | Jan. 17, 2011 at 11:38 a.m. (report)

Best place in Milwaukee!!! If you haven't been there you are truly missing out! Get over there!!!

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Crew_Dat | Jan. 17, 2011 at 11:30 a.m. (report)

Went here for my first visit Friday, as it's one of my girfriend's favorites. My personal view is that most Italian food in Milwaukee is surprising mediocre, considering the large Italian population, and I'd rather make my own from family recipes. Was very impressed with both my meal and the service. Started off with one of the better minestrone soups I've had in a while. Heavily tomato based, served at the ideal temperature. I had the veal saltimbocca, and it was perfectly simple, tender and delicious. My gf went for the chicken parm, also great. We weren't in a rush at all, but our waitress appologized for a wait for our entrees that wasn't actually bothering us at all - they were busy. She eventually bought desserts for us even though we weren't complaining at all - a very rich chocolate cake and a good, traditional tiramisu. I will be back. Great first impression.

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scottfuel | Jan. 17, 2011 at 11:08 a.m. (report)

Two of my favorite people in Milwaukee! They are the most industrious, humble and creative folks in the business. What would Milwaukee be without Sala?! I LOVE that place. Congrats on 10 years, you two. Well done.

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