By Peter Cox
When North Attleborough’s Leo Raneri was looking to buy his first restaurant, he knew exactly what he wanted: a place that was already established but needed some improvement, and somewhere on the smaller side that would be easy to manage.
Bella Sarno on Kelley Boulevard (Route 152) certainly didn’t fit all three of those criteria. It was established with popular menu items, and customers often said wait times needed to be reduced, so there was room for improvement.
The third condition was the sticking point. With a large banquet space and multiple dining rooms, the facility was far from small.
But Raneri couldn’t resist. His family had a host of authentic Italian dishes that would fit right in with Bella Sarno’s existing menu, and he had a clear vision for the restaurant.
Part of Raneri’s vision for the future of Bella Sarno came from the building’s past. For over 25 years the location was the home of Folan’s Cornucopia, a restaurant Raneri described as a community gathering place. Since 2004, at least five other restaurants have come and gone.
As a North Attleborough native, Raneri wanted to see the building have a similar community role again.
“When I decided now was the time to open a restaurant, I knew I wanted to be a part of the community,” he said. “I wanted to be able to give back to North Attleborough, to serve people we know.”
The Raneri family has been in North for 20 years. Raneri’s kids went to Amvet Boulevard Elementary School and North Attleborough High School.
“We’re a North family,” he said. “We’ve been able to serve the YMCA and we’ve done a lot of sports banquets already.”
Raneri spent 28 years in the financial industry, but prior to that he worked in the restaurant industry and always dreamed of opening his own place.
Now, about one year later, Raneri said he believes his vision has taken shape.
Bella Sarno was a successful restaurant, but Raneri saw room for improvement.
“We hired an outside consultant when we first bought the restaurant, and he went through the whole business,” he said. “The wait times were the biggest issue previously, and we were able to redesign the kitchen completely to cut those wait times in half.”
Then it came time to reevaluate the menu. Raneri said it was important for the restaurant to add a grill.
“The menu before was heavy with sauté and deep-fried options,” he said. “When you make everything from scratch, sautéing everything adds to the time per dish. So we balanced out the menu with grilled meats, swordfish, salmon, and grilled veggies. Not only did that allow us to add healthier options, but it took a lot of pressure off the sauté station, reducing the wait times even further.”
The heart of the menu is Raneri’s great-grandmother’s red sauce recipe, a tomato basil marinara.
“One of our staples on the menu is the Beef Bracioletini,” Raneri said. “That’s tender slices of eye round roast beef, each stuffed with a mixture of bread crumbs, fresh parsley, and Pecorino Romano cheese. Then that’s rolled, skewered, grilled, and finished with an oregano infused olive oil, wine and demi-glace reduction sauce.”
He also added an Italian jumbalaya to the menu, which features a seafood medley, Italian sausage, and tomato basil broth.
“We also get creative with our daily specials,” Raneri said. “We’re always trying to keep things fresh.”
The final step to bringing back the community-centered focus of Folan’s, Raneri said, is utilizing the banquet space.
Not only does he host showers, birthday parties, and group banquets, he’s introduced entertainment.
“We’ve had Frank Sinatra tribute dances, comedy shows, and live bands,” Raneri said. “Comedians are a regular part of our entertainment schedule. We have lounge entertainment every Friday night, which allows for small solo acts.”
The bottom line for Raneri is that the restaurant has a positive vibe.
“It’s good food at a great value, but it’s also an independent, family-run business with strong roots in the community,” he said. “You know what to expect every time you come in, with a consistently good experience. And you’ll feel like part of the family. My mother might talk your ear off, but honestly, people love that.”
Bella Sarno is located at 553 Kelley Blvd. (Route 152) in North Attleborough and is open Tuesday through Thursday from 4 to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 4 to 10 p.m., and Sunday from 1 to 8 p.m.