MUSCATINE — The smell of fresh bread, pasta and cannolis made from scratch is likely to start wafting through Muscatine's downtown and the new Merrill Hotel and Conference Center, starting next week.
Mamma Mia Italian Restaurante will open on the first floor of The Pearl building, 101 W. Mississippi Drive, Muscatine. Brothers and co-owners, Feim and Gony Veseli, hope their business will cater to everyone, from families looking for an affordable lunch and business leaders holding meetings at the new hotel next door.
The Muscatine restaurant will be the second for the Veseli brothers, who have owned Napoli's Italian Restaurant in Marion for more than seven years.
Feim Veseli, previously of Texas, said he has traveled the world but decided to open his next restaurant in Muscatine, to be closer to family and because of the potential for development.
"We operate pretty much like a family business, and to have most of the family here, that means a lot," he said.
The brothers also brought in one of their favorite chefs, Nick Lutvi, who also previously lived in Texas. Lutvi said he has prepared Italian food since 1984.
"My dad had a restaurant in [New] Jersey and it was always Italian food," Lutvi said. "He loved cooking."
Mamma Mia, Lutvi said, will offer a variety of dishes from "sea to land," including steak, lobster, sea bass and filet mignon. Even the desserts, he added, will be made from scratch. At lunch and dinner, meals will be served with soup or salad and homemade bread.
The brothers will also cater events and business meetings, accommodating between 10 and 500 people. The restaurant will seat up to 160 people and includes a party room for conferences or private events, a full bar, patio area and view of the riverfront.
"We want to offer something nobody else has here," Gony Veseli said. "And the view ... I've never seen anything like it."
Developer Tom Meeker said once the Merrill Hotel is finished, the restaurant will overlook a new area of greenspace, with fountains and art pieces. The hotel is also building a walkway that will connect the hotel with the ground level of The Pearl.
Tom, and his wife Ann Meeker, are currently renovating the building's lobby for around $300,000, so hotel guests and visitors will have a seamless transition from the Merrill to restaurants in the building.
While the hotel is also opening a restaurant, Tom Meeker said people can purchase meals at Mamma Mia for less than $10. The restaurant will offer higher-priced seafood items, for around $30 or $40.
"So that's really a double whammy to satisfy the community with, and that's what's nice," he said.
Tom Meeker said he has been searching for two years to find the right restaurant to fill the space on the first floor of his building.
"[The owners] can't wait to open because it's a new restaurant for them, and I can't wait for it to open because I've been sitting on this for two years knowing the new hotel was going to open, trying to find the right people," he said. "I could have rented this space about half-a-dozen times last year."
He believes the Veseli brothers, along with their chef, have the experience to make the restaurant a huge success in Muscatine. For now, the brothers are focused on making a good first impression.
"First, it's hard to bring people in, but we want to make sure we keep them here and see them coming back again and again, bringing friends and family," Gony Veseli said.
The restaurant is closed on Mondays. Mamma Mia will be open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Mamma Mia Italian Restaurante can be reached by calling 563-299-1865.