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When she met her husband Tom, little did Renee Burns know that the two of them would be the perfect blend for starting an Italian Deli. She, with 30 years in the restaurant business, and he, with a passion for good food, would make their little piece of Italy at 29 S. Main Street in Oconomowoc the talk of the town.

"Tom works long days, and I was working long nights as a bar manager at Fish Bones," explains Burns. "When we got married, I quit because it got to the point that we rarely saw each other. But it wasn't long before I got bored. So we tossed around the idea of opening up a 'daytime' restaurant/store, something that would get me home in the evening to spend some quality time with my husband and family."

They both had an appetite for Italian cuisine and recognized a genuine need to offer great homemade and authentic Italian food in the Lake Country area. Thus, Bella Gusto was born.

"Amazingly, the whole process went from thought to fruition in less than two weeks," Burns describes. "After a friend of mine told me about the availability of this building, Tom and I discussed some plans and made out a business proposal that was accepted in four days." Bravo!

The deli side

All of the Italian meats and cheeses are imported from Italy including the Prociutto. The pastas are homemade and the rich bakery is from Sciortino's on Milwaukee's east side.

"People from this area were traveling all the way to Brady Street for the great Italian bakery Sciortino's puts out. Now they don't have to make the long trip!" says Burns.

Jennifer and Todd Orlando from Oconomowoc, who come to Bella Gusto about three times a week, reveal the reason being, "Todd loves the pepperoni sticks. The kids love the cookies and awesome deserts and we all love the high-quality, very flavorful lunch meat. And the fresh rolls have this amazing flavor and texture that just cannot be found anywhere else. We are hooked."

The restaurant side

"We started with just a few sandwich items and now we offer nightly pasta specials and 12 sandwich combinations," Burns says. "Our pastas, sausages, meatballs and sauces are all homemade and come from recipes handed down by my husband's Italian side of the family."

Customers attest to the great pasta dishes. "We come here almost every week for the spaghetti and meatballs," reveals Geanette Carreras of Delafield. "It is very flavorful, not too heavy. And we love the atmosphere. It is fancy but not formal, casual and relaxing. The owners are very accommodating and you feel very welcome, like family."

The Burns are hoping to expand and include stone-fire pizza on its menu.

The store side

Using Gloriosos of Milwaukee as a sort of model, a good part of the business plan had to do with offering authentic Italian packaged goods to complement the deli. Shelves are adorned with homemade pastas, marina sauces, imported Italian wines and other genuine Italian products.

Catering and delivery

"Our catering business has exploded," reveals Burns. "We are doing weddings, birthday parties, baby showers and private business parties. We also offer delivery."

This is not a late night establishment, so be sure to come early for the great Italian cuisine.

Sunday Gravy

Ingredients:

1 lb piece of lean beef

1 lb piece of lean pork

1 lb of Bella Gusto hot sausage

½ cup of first press olive oil

4 garlic cloves peeled

3 tbsp tomato paste

¼ cup water

3 (35 oz.) cans plum tomatoes

Salt & pepper

Preparation:

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and toss to coat with oil. Cook meat a few pieces at a time, about 5 minutes and until nicely browned on all sides. Remove the meat from the pan and set aside. When garlic cloves have browned, remove and discard them. Combine tomato paste and water and stir into oil. Stirring constantly, cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and juice, and bring to a boil. Using the tomato cans, add two cans of cold water and return to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste when simmering (about 1 hour). Serve with the meat.

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