Pina Gambino Noonan loves food and even more, loves giving people good food. Upon receiving my order of a ‘Garden of Eden’ Pizza, she opens the box, smiles down at the fresh vegetables covering every inch of it and says with a sigh, “That’s beautiful,” as she closes the box.
In an area where there are more chain restaurants than family-owned restaurants, is a clear stand-out. The Gambino Noonan family aims to share their love of healthy, delicious pizza with every guest who comes through the door. They have a different style than most pizza businesses—they seek to provide a better pizza. They use fresh herbs, grown from Pina’s garden and grown in front of the restaurant. They also use fresh garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and like a traditional Sicilian family, their tomato sauce always stays the same.
Pina is optimistic about the startup, which only opened in December of 2010. She and her husband Tom Noonan have been in the pizza business since 1982, when they moved to the Lake Ridge area. “We knew we would make it,” she added, confident about their success so far. They wanted to branch into their own family-run business with no other partners but themselves this time.
It is truly a team effort. Tom and their son Patrick make the pizza and come up with different pizza recipes. Their son Jacob, a graphic designer, designed their logo, menus, and completed the art installations. About a few times a day, they practice the ritual of drinking espresso.
The Noonans were going to retire from the restaurant business completely and join their daughter in St. Thomas Virgin Islands where she lives as a yoga instructor and massage therapist. Yet when they heard of the opportunity to open a new pizza place of their own—ideas began to spring. They knew their time in Lake Ridge had not come to an end.
Pina emailed a few close family members for ideas for the name of the restaurant. They kept coming short on names, not wanting to use any real names for the restaurant. "Finally", Pina recalls, “I was sitting outside on the deck and what felt like a divine energy came on me. Eureka! It’s Presto!”
In Italian ‘presto’ means “hurry!” or “quick” and they strive to be fast about providing quick and healthier fare with no preservatives or added sugar. In addition, Pina named their corporation running the restaurant “Love et Light” meaning "Cooked with love, and everything tastes light."
“People often ask me, 'Whats your secret?' I say 'There’s no secret that we make everything with love and care,'" said Pina. The Noonans care about their customer’s experiences with their food. They care that they leave satisfied. They are happy to know when a customer enjoys their food.
The Noonan’s love of food is evident, and Pina does not hide her own recipes. She likes to share with everyone how she cooks so they can eat healthier. She recommends using only fresh herbs instead of dried, and paying a little bit more for better pasta, stressing that if you make it al dente, the food will digest better. She stresses that food should not only be nutritious but a journey to be delighted in.
“Cooking is creativity. It is how to marry together different ingredients, like good tomatoes, garlic, oil and fresh herbs," she said.
In her free time, Pina loves to spend time with her three grandchildren, teaching them the Italian language, culture and mannerisms. She also loves to garden—zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, basil, parsley, etc. To her, it is restful being in nature, the peaceful silence working in her garden is a prayer.
Fresh red flower plants, mint, basil, rosemary and oregano sit in pots outside of Presto! Pizza, their smells lingering in the air. Nina smells a red flower and hands it to me along with a rosemary branch. She described a time when a customer passed by and said that he "smelled paradise." She got tears in her eyes even as she described this brief compliment and how it brought joy to her that day.
The food she shares is love and she loves nothing more than when customers express the love back.