Eat, Play, Live

Jim’s Italian Cuisine keeps it old-fashioned

Owner of Jim's Italian, Jim Boscaino III, stands for a portrait May 23, outside his restaurant in Bellefonte.
Owner of Jim's Italian, Jim Boscaino III, stands for a portrait May 23, outside his restaurant in Bellefonte.

Editor’s note: This story is part of the Eat, Play, Live special section.

Jim’s Italian Cuisine in Bellefonte is a small restaurant. There’s not really any other way to put it.

But in Jim’s case, small does not mean cramped. Small means cozy — a cozy atmosphere with cozy food creating a cozy dining experience.

The owner, Jim Boscaino III, said the restaurant originally opened in 1952 in his father’s basement up the hill from its current location near the Centre County Courthouse. At the time, Jim Boscaino Jr. had a job, but with a family of five children, the money he was making wasn’t cutting it.

“They would visit relatives in Philadelphia,” Boscaino said, “and they had pizzas in the city. They didn’t have those (in Bellefonte) at the time.”

So the elder Boscaino started making pizzas and “Dagwood”-style sandwiches and selling them out of his basement to make some extra money, he said.

“The thing about pizza back in ’52,” he said, “I don’t know if (residents) knew about it or not, but the college students knew. They would come get the pizza.”

His father purchased a garage in 1960, where the restaurant still resides to this day. Business continued to build, and it expanded in 1976 and the elder Boscaino started working there full time.

Tucked away along a side street, Jim’s doesn’t seem like its in a business-friendly location. But on any given afternoon — during business hours of course — staff can be found hard at work packaging orders for delivery or pickup.

Word of mouth and social media keep the customers coming, Boscaino said.

He said he sometimes wishes he didn’t have such an extensive menu — which offers Italian standards, such as spaghetti, lasagna and a variety of pastas, but also sandwiches, including cheesesteaks and hoagies — because daily prep work usually begins at about 5 a.m. In all, it takes about three to four hours every morning to prepare for the day, he said.

“On a Friday, it’s probably a solid four hours,” he said. “And by 10 a.m., I start getting faxes and phone calls for this and that.

“It’s nothing to send 70 cheesesteaks up to State College on a Friday,” he added.

The restaurant doesn’t use pre-cut bags of lettuce — he gets cases of lettuce heads that are cleaned, cut and put in 50-gallon drums of ice to keep crisp. Afterward, it’s drained and kept cool to keep it fresh.

He couldn’t exactly say what makes his food so well-liked by customers, saying it simply comes down to a person’s taste buds.

“The kind of food I serve, they like it,” he said. “We try to do it the old-fashioned way. What I learned from my dad and mom, I kept it.”

It’s that sense of old-fashioned, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude that keeps him in the same location as well, he said. And when it comes time to step down, he said, he hopes his own daughters will be willing to take up the work and keep the restaurant running for a third generation.

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews

Jim’s Italian Cuisine

Where: 201 E. Cherry Lane, Bellefonte

Info: 355-2169