Al Fresco opened its doors in Newport News 22 years ago and has been a staple in the community ever since. “We have had the same chef for all 22 years, and it shows. Customers know us; they know this is a classic, family place. We honor family values here for both the staff and our customers,” says Ella Rojas, manager and server at Al Fresco for 12 years.
Al Fresco’s origin story began when owner Ronnie Lopez came to visit family in Hampton Roads and fell in love with the area. He realized Newport News didn’t have a restaurant like the one he dreamt of opening, and he began to make his dream a reality.
The beloved Italian restaurant has a dedicated team which includes four kitchen staff, eight servers and, of course, Lopez and his wife, who often comes in to help. “It’s unbelievable, the base of what Al Fresco is. We have been serving for more than one generation,” Rojas says. “We have formed personal relationships with customers, although we treat everyone the same, encouraging them to become part of the family. We are a very personal business, hosting birthday parties, holiday parties, graduations…all sorts of life events.”
Rojas smiles as she comments on how special Al Fresco is to her. The staff has created a family-like relationship, and the feeling extends to our beloved diners. “The best part of this job is the feeling of family; we really care about our customers, and we feel they care about us. It’s nice,” Rojas says. “I have a happy life; work is my happy place.”
Of course, tasty food is central to the success and relationships of Al Fresco. The team has been serving classic Italian food “with heart” for more than two decades. An extensive list of fine wines is offered to accompany meals. While the menus are occasionally updated to enhance and offer variety, the changes are acceptable and minimal as regular customers often want the classic meals that have been keeping them coming back for years.
“Some of our classic dishes include lasagna, chicken parmigiana, any of our salmon dishes and any of our pink cream sauce dishes,” Rojas says. “My personal favorite item is the salmon picatta, served with mashed potatoes. Everything is cooked to order here, so diners can customize their orders. They will even order entrees that are no longer on the menu and our cooks can still prepare each order, remembering the recipe.”
While no day at Al Fresco is the same, the team often relishes in their somewhat daily routine, supporting one another in every way. “Our normal schedule includes readying for our openings and prepping for the rush. And while we do our own jobs, we are good about helping each other,” Rojas says. “At the end of the shift we all sit as a team and have dinner together as a family. The cooks make something for everyone and then we clean everything up.”
Rojas’ love of her job even carries over into her free time activities, as well. “When I’m not at work, I love to cook, just love it. When I first started working at Al Fresco, I had a three-month-old baby, and now she’s 12. So while family time is obviously important, so is dinner time,” Rojas says.
Al Fresco’s doors are open to everyone, welcoming all customers with open arms and a fresh dish to let them know just how appreciated they are.