Chef Nunzio Patruno, originally from Italy, has had several restaurant endeavors in Philadelphia. Perhaps his most notable was The Monte Carlo Living Room, which he ran for 20 years. After his success in Philly, Patruno packed up his knives and ventured across the bridge to Collingswood, where he opened Nunzio Ristorante Rustico in 2003.
Collingswood is a dry town, making all restaurants BYOB. How does that fare for business?
When you have a business in Philadelphia and you buy a liquor license when you open, you pay the tax on the license, then the tax on the alcohol and then that tax goes to the customers because you need to jack up the price of the drinks. So some people want to start a restaurant and they open a small BYOB. My situation is different. My place is BYOB because that’s how it has to be. When I came to Collingswood I wanted a 70- or 80-seat restaurant. I ended up with a 140-seat restaurant. I guess I am a jumbo BYOB. But I think that you get a lot of good customers. They are smart shoppers, and they know what good wine should cost. They don’t want to get ripped off, so they pay a fair price at the liquor store and bring it to dinner.
You had some special holiday menus, including one for New Year’s Eve. Can you tell us about that one?
[We had] an a la carte menu for New Year’s Eve. Usually I do a four-course dinner, and each year there are different choices. I always keep one option vegetarian because you got to make everybody happy. But people can substitute, too. If they don’t want to try something on the menu, and they like chicken parmesan and only chicken parmesan, well, I’ll make it for them.
Was it a big party for New Year’s?
Basically, every year the party gets bigger and bigger. It can get overwhelming, but in a good way. There are a lot of people, and New Year’s gets booked fast. Some customers, they beg me to come in, but I can only do so much. I can’t break down the wall and make the restaurant bigger! But some people leave before midnight, and I wish they would stay. At midnight we turn the music up, people drink their sparkling wine, and it’s a good time.