Within days of the December opening of Simeri’s Italian Restaurant (10410 Olio Rd., Fortville, 317-589-8557), Arec Simeri was packing the house. Using old-school recipes passed down from his great-grandmother and new-school marketing techniques gleaned from the years he spent working for the great-grandfather of social media (at least in this town), Scott Wise of Scotty’s Brewhouse, the 29-year old restaurateur is building on the momentum. No surprise, since his bloodline is rich with oregano. Simeri filled us in on his restaurant's family tree and the magical powers of pork butt.
Julia Spalding: What’s special about your sauce?
Arec Simeri: There is a picture on the wall of a woman named Nana. That’s my great-grandma. She came over on the boat. The reason the sauce is special is that it’s the same recipe that we have used for 70 years. So it works. It's the little things. Like, we have pork butts that we cut up, put into the sauce, and let sit for hours and hours. We let them kind of fall apart in the sauce. Same thing with the meatballs. We cook our meatballs, and then we stick them in the sauce again for hours so that all of those flavors blend together. It’s slow cooking. It takes forever to do a pot of pasta sauce.
JS: Where did you learn how to do that?
AS: When I was really young, we would have dinner at Nana’s place, if not every week then at least once a month. So it was always a big deal.
JS: What did you remember about those family dinners?
AS: Her stirring in the kitchen, telling us how skinny we were and that we needed to eat. Pinching cheeks. Her massive pot that she would stir. And then her teaching her son, which was my grandpa.
JS: Was she first-generation American?
AS: Yes. Her husband ran the sewage lines through South Bend. He would bring families over from Italy and put them to work. So there is actually a very large Italian community in South Bend. Italian and Polish. It was an immigrant city for a long time.
JS: And restaurants run in your family?
AS: The ones that my immediate family own are Simeri’s Old Town Tap in South Bend and Elkhart. Lucchese's Italian Restaurant in Elkhart. Madison Oyster Bar in South Bend. And then Nicola’s Restaurant in South Bend, which is where we got all of our recipes. It’s funny, people come in here and see the name, and they are like, “You’re not from Elkhart are you? Is it like Nicola's cracker crust?” And I’m like, “Yeah, it’s exactly like that.”
JS: Who do you have in your family working for you at Simeri’s?
AS: My brother, Christopher, runs the kitchen. My sister, Anna, ran the bar for the first month and then moved to L.A. And my dad oversees everything.
JS: What are some of the highlights of your menu?
AS: We will do a Drunken Sausage Diablo. It’s a vodka Diablo sauce with Italian sausage, so it's spicy. We will do a fettuccini Alfredo with chicken. We will do a carbonara. And then we will always rotate things on the board. We make the meatballs, the crust, and the sauce from scratch. Both sauces—a pizza sauce and a pasta sauce. We blend the cheese ourselves. The cannoli, bread, and cheesecake come from The Bakery at Geist. Our spumoni comes from Sundaes down the road. We have nine different Indiana beers on tap as well.
JS: Did your work at Scotty’s Brewhouse give you special insight into running a business?
AS: One thing I learned from Scotty’s, above everything, is that I know how to get people in the door. Use your social media to get people to know about you. And get your sign out early so people know what’s coming and can get excited about it.
For more on Simeri's, check out the April 2013 issue of Indianapolis Monthly.