LODI, N.J. — Barbara Wollak of Wayne comes for the meatballs and the gravy. Gary Epstein of Rockland makes sure to get the sausage bread whenever he’s in New Jersey.
Rosario Gentiluomo owns Brother’s Pizza in Saddle Brook, but he can’t resist the childhood nostalgia or homemade goodness from Lodi’s Vitamia & Sons Ravioli Co.
There’s not much happening on Harrison Avenue but there’s almost always bustle inside Vitamia’s kitchen.
“I’ve been to Arthur Avenue in Little Italy and it just doesn’t compare,” said Wollak after purchasing her weekly order from the shop.
“The sauce. It’s the same sauce and I try to make it at home and get the spices — but the taste doesn’t cut it.”
Vitamia — which translates from Italian as "my life" — is just that for owners Paul, Joseph and his son, Anthony.
They wake up at 2 a.m. knowing that the dough they’re about to make will completely disappear from the shelves by sunset. They're on a nickname basis with almost all of their customers.
After five decades, the trio knows all of the secrets that their father and grandfather Antonio Vitamia, 88 of Saddle Brook, brought to Lodi from Siciliy in 1966.
"People who used to come here when they were kids bring their grandkids," Anthony Vitamia said before disappearing into the kitchen to replace a tray of food.
The shop’s foundation lays in the founder’s sprawling, Saddle Brook garden. All of the produce is grown there by the immigrant himself.
The store's success, however, remains untouched. They said it was all cultivated by word-of-mouth.
That's how Epstein heard of Lodi's hidden gem, after all.
“Everybody knows about this place,” said Epstein, two large Vitamia bags in hand. “They’ve got a cult following. The food is good.
“I’ve been all over. I travel. There is nothing better than the sausage bread.”