One of Bujar Daku’s friends rode by on a bicycle Thursday and excitedly blurted out, “Boss, when’s the opening? September?”
“Soon,” Daku replied as he smiled and gave a thumbs-up sign to confirm that September is indeed the scheduled grand opening for his new Fratelli’s Wood Fired Pizzeria at the corner of 50th Street and Landis Avenue in Sea Isle City.
The pizzeria is the latest addition to Daku’s collection of restaurants at the Jersey Shore, mainly under the La Fontana brand name.
His restaurants, featuring fine Italian cuisine, are in Sea Isle, Strathmere and Avalon. He also has a La Fontana in Philadelphia. In Strathmere, he also operates a Fratelli’s pizzeria at his La Fontana Del Mare restaurant.
His new Fratelli’s pizzeria in Sea Isle will be right across the street from his La Fontana Coast restaurant on Landis Avenue.
Daku says it promises to be nothing like a typical pizzeria. For starters, it will come with a $40,000 wood-burning oven imported from Italy.
“It’s going to be something different,” Daku said. “It’s going to have gourmet pizza and personal pizza. It will be upscale. It was time to come up with a new concept.”
Daku said he is awaiting an engineer’s approval for the venting system above the big, domed oven before he can open the business. He is targeting the first week of September.
The Morello Forni-manufactured oven that serves as the centerpiece of the kitchen is capable of heating up to 1,600 degrees and can cook multiple pizzas on a rotating center tray, Daku explained.
“The oven is made from the ash of a volcano, so that’s why it keeps the temperature very high. It’s the No. 1 oven in the world,” he said.
The pizzeria features Mediterranean-style decor, including brick walls and stone floors. There will be seating for 50 inside, although the eatery will also offer outdoor dining in warm weather.
The grand opening will continue the 44-year-old Daku’s remarkable personal story as a successful restaurateur. Born in Albania, he left the small European country in 1990 to escape poverty and the oppressive Communist government that was in control at that time.
“Communists,” Daku said, shaking his head in disgust. “The country is poor and there is no freedom.”
His first foray in the restaurant business in the United States began in 1991, when he served as a chef at La Veranda in Philadelphia.
While at the Jersey Shore several years later, he went out for drinks with some friends and met the now-deceased Fausto Berardi, who would become his partner in La Fontana Del Mare in Strathmere in 1998. His other La Fontana restaurants would follow as he became more successful.
His restaurant group includes members of his family. His brother, Gani, his son, Bakim, and a nephew, Hazbi, are part of the Sea Isle team.
Daku bought the three-story building that will house the pizzeria in 2014. Fratelli’s will occupy the first floor, while the second and third stories contain residential units.
Daku explained that he played with different concepts for the building’s commercial space before deciding on an upscale pizzeria. He believes the theme reflects Sea Isle’s reputation as a family-friendly vacation destination.
“Sea Isle is a nice family resort town,” he said.