If you’ve driven down Apollo Beach Blvd recently, you may have noticed that the parking lot in the strip mall across from Beef Obrady’s has been quite full. There’s a reason. We have a new Italian Restaurant in Apollo Beach and it’s called The Vineyards.
We wanted to get the story behind the new Italian restaurant in our neighborhood, so we reached out to the owner Merlin Calero and sat down with him to get the scoop. What we uncovered is a story of hope and compassion, as well as Italian family roots, all of which are at the heart of The Vineyards business.
The Road To Authentic Italian Cuisine
Calero, who has Salvadoran heritage got his start at age 12 in New York, working for an Italian family in their Sicilian restaurant. To be correct, his older brother worked at the restaurant and Merlin would come by after school every day and “help out” by cleaning tables and other tasks, while enjoying free pizza and soda for his efforts. That all changed when one day the owner of the establishment gave him 10 bucks and asked if he’d be coming back next week. This changed everything for the young Calero who was transformed from a kid getting free pizza and soda to a young man receiving payment for the value he contributed.
From that point forward he learned everything about Italian Sicilian style cuisine, right from the family he worked for.
What Is Sicilian Style Italian Food?
Merlin explained that Sicilian style food can be described as country-style Italian food. The “meat and potatoes” comfort food of Italian cooking. Infused with seafood (as you know Sicily is an island) and of course sauces which are made fresh for each and every dish to order.
He described their food as a Trattoria, which is a country-style with a twist and they make perfect adjustments of their food to cater to the American palate.
Food Pricing – Ranges from $12.99 – $23.00 entres that address every taste.
Full bar and wine available.
The Vineyards Restaurant Roots
Since 2007, Calero had their Newport News, Virginia restaurant location that was very successful. They then opened a second location in Norfolk, Va in 2010. In 2013, they decided to move to Florida for all of the reason we all know and love, selling the second location in Norfolk to make the move feasible.
Living in the Ruskin area, Merlin and his wife had been looking for a facility that would work somewhere in the area for a period of two years without success. After a lot of prayer and looking for the right place, Merlin was dropping someone from church off near Apollo Beach Blvd and just happened to drive by a building that caught his eye. He stopped to look in the windows, noticed that it had been empty for a while, and proceeded to make some calls. Everything came together fairly quickly and the new location was opened and is off to a great start.
It’s More Than Amazing Italian Food And Great Service
As I was interviewing Merlin about the restaurant and their business, it became clear that there was more to the passion that came through his answers. As I questioned him about their business and philosophy, layers of the onion began to be revealed with their desire to KNOW their customers. Their names, who they are as people and allowing their guests to know them. It may be a cliche’ to invoke the show “Cheers” here and the “where everyone knows your name” bit, but that is truly where their hearts are. In fact, on the weekends you will see his wife and daughter at the restaurant also, greeting guests and getting to know them.
As we talked, it was clear that the onion had several more layers, so I pressed him on going deeper. On the food side of things, they want people to come to their restaurant and have an amazing experience. To enjoy their time, the food they eat and with portions that depict value. They really want their customers to enjoy the food and experience that they talk about it on the way home and share it with their friends while taking their leftovers home to enjoy again.
I finally uncovered what I sensed was different when Merlin began sharing the motivation behind what they do. His goal for being in business isn’t solely monetarily focused. They are also ministers and in doing so, they support ministries in South and Central America, as well as here in the United States. Feeding the hungry and ministering to the hurting is what drives their focus on success.
How Is The Vineyards Different?
Merlin explained that they have a vast menu and the fact that every dish they make is made fresh to order. They do not have anything that is pre-made or brought in frozen. They prepare every single dish, sauce, and recipe right in their kitchen when you order it. All of their recipes are homemade and come with hundreds of years of family tradition, all made from scratch.
Underneath the passion for making incredible food, is a passion for people. Not only their customers but also their employees. In fact, they have numerous staff that has been with them for 12 years or more. Right now, they are employing 20 employees in the new Apollo Beach restaurant, half of which are full and half are part-time.
We can’t say enough about our experience with the Calero’s and their new Apollo Beach Italian restaurant. It’s clear to us that they are not just interested in making money by feeding people good food, but also impacting the hearts of their community.
The Vineyards Italian Restaurant
250 Apollo Beach Blvd
Apollo Beach, Florida 33572
Monday – Friday: 11:30AM – 3:00PM
Monday – Thursday: 5:00PM – 9:00PM
Friday – Saturday: 5:00PM – 10:00PM