One of Houston’s most beloved neighborhood restaurants will celebrate its 20th birthday in a very special way. Paulie’s, the Montrose Italian restaurant that’s become a restaurant industry favorite, will commemorate two decades in business with a cookbook titled Paulie's: Classic Italian Cooking in the Heart of Houston's Montrose District.
“I thought a book was a nice thing to have available for guests and hand out to our staff, something that will last forever,” Paulie’s owner and book author Paul Petronella tells CultureMap. “It’s been a really long process, but it’s almost there.”
Published by Austin's Greenleaf Book Group and featuring photography by Debora Smail, the book is available for pre-order now on Amazon at $25.16 for delivery in February; it will also be available for purchase at the restaurant beginning in December (Update 10/6: The book won't be available at the restaurant until early January). Petronella will donate all proceeds from book sales through the end of September to Harvey relief.
While the book contains instructions for how to prepare many of the restaurant’s signature dishes, it offers more than a collection of recipes. After all, as a casual, counter service restaurant, it’s more than food that’s allowed Paulie’s to thrive in Houston’s turbulent dining scene. Consistently well-executed food has been balanced with service, ambiance, and affordability.
Rather than divide the book into types of dishes like salads, pastas, and entrees, the recipes are mixed with Petronella’s life story: beginning with his childhood growing up in the restaurant business at D’Amico’s, which is owned by his uncle Nash D’Amico, to his travels through Italy and assuming control of the restaurant from his parents in 2009.
“I realized we don’t really have that many recipes here at Paulie’s,” Petronella says. “I thought maybe it should be a storybook, because I think people should know the story behind family restaurants. How we deal with adversity so that we can get to prosperity.”
Towards that end, Petronella says he gets real about profit margins and deciding what items are worth investing in versus when to save funds for a rainy day. Petronella hopes the advice will help future business owners realize all the little decisions they have to make when they decide to open a restaurant.
“For newcomers to the business or people who really want to open a restaurant, I think it offers really good insight into what they can expect,” he says. “How to keep employees motivated, how to stay active in your community.”
The book also contains a special shout-out to the restaurant’s regulars with a two-page spread that lists customers' names. Petronella says the staff kept a running list behind the counter and added people to it when they saw familiar faces walk in. They’d even come out from behind the counter to confirm proper spellings.
As for the future, Petronella says he doesn’t think Paulie’s is likely to expand. His parents tried it before, with a location near West University on Holcomb that’s now a Candelari’s. Even though the recipes matched the Westheimer location, he says customer said the experience wasn’t the same. A higher lease rate would also mean raising the restaurant’s affordable prices.
However, that doesn’t mean Petronella has opened his last business. He sees a future for Camerata, the wine bar he opened in 2013, but, of course, it would have to be the right fit.
“I’m not going to expand just to expand. It has to be a home run with all of the other expenses,” Petronella says. “It has to be the right rental rate (in) the right neighborhood. It has to be the right demographic. They’re all things I wish more business owners considered before signing a lease.”