By Jenna Moldaver |
OCEANPORT – It was the Friday night before the legendary 2015 Haskell Invitational weekend, the one at which American Pharoah was expected. The staff of Enzo’s Deli & Pizza were at Monmouth Park Racetrack to serve food for a fundraiser to benefit disabled jockeys.
Just a few blocks away, as the fundraiser was wrapping up, a fire broke out near their restaurant at 281 E. Main St. The fire, which also affected a nail salon and the adjacent post office, left significant damage.
For the next three years, Oceanport would miss out on Enzo’s gourmet pizza, cheesesteaks and calzones. But in May, Enzo’s returned to the community with renewed strength. Owner Sabino Portella, acting as general contractor, built the new store from the ground up. From pouring floors to putting up walls, Portella worked steadily to bring back the shop that has been in his life since 1984 when his parents established the business.
“Every step was a celebration,” Portella said.
While the work was rewarding, the road to completion was daunting and arduous. Throughout the process, the support of the Oceanport community gave Portella constant motivation. Having grown up in the town, Portella has a loyal base of customers who served as his inspiration as he worked tirelessly on the construction of the new Enzo’s Pizza & Subs, located in the new plaza at 113 E. Main St., less than a mile away from the original location.
“What brings us back is the community,” Portella said. “We didn’t want to relocate. We wanted to stay here in Oceanport. That was our biggest drive, to come back to our clientele. And we got everybody back. Everyone has come back and supported us. It’s been incredible.”
Portella says he has watched kids grow up in his store, as the same faces return year after year. Coming in on bikes, kids bring energy to the store and return faithfully to enjoy Enzo’s wide range of offerings. Portella says he is grateful for these kids and is excited to welcome the next generation to the store in this new chapter.
But Portella explains that customers aren’t the only ones with steadfast loyalty to the store.
“Even my employees came back,” Portella said. “Three years and my employees quit their jobs and came back to me. That says a lot. They love working here and we have a good environment.”
Portella has been fostering such an environment since he was 14, when he first began working for his parents. Since his father cut the ribbon at the store’s grand opening 34 years ago, some things have certainly changed – the equipment, the decor and the location, to name a few – but much remains the same for this hub of authentic cuisine. Today, Enzo’s is still family-owned and operated, with Portella’s three teenage children working in the store and upholding its longstanding traditions.
Throughout the construction process, Portella used the restaurant’s Facebook page to update customers leading up to the grand opening. He even invited customers to put the finishing touches on the new store, calling on them to cast their votes in the comments regarding the color scheme of the new light box sign to be displayed in the front and back of the restaurant.
Now, with the store up and running, Portella is thrilled with the results. “We’re happy about the new look of the place and it’s just very rewarding having a brand new store with brand new equipment and the community behind you a thousand percent,” he said.
Portella now sees that Friday night three years ago as something he and his family have overcome and is appreciative and proud they have been able to move past it.
“That’s behind us now,” Portella said. “We’re only looking at the good things that are ahead of us. That’s what we like to focus on. We don’t like to focus on the negativity of what was. It’s about what’s going to be.”
Since it’s reopening, Enzo’s has hardly skipped a beat. In the past few months, their beloved pizza and subs have made their way into town on food trucks and have been served at stands at community functions. The store was a part of the Allaire BBQ & Brew Fest, the Jersey Shore Food Truck Festival at the Monmouth Park Racetrack and the Oceanport Lion’s Club Strawberry Fair. They will also be participating in the Italian Festival on Aug. 5.
The store’s expansive menu includes a variety of wraps, sandwiches, pasta dishes, pizzas, calzones and snacks ranging from sweet treats like cinnamon bites and zeppolis to savory bites like quesadillas and garlic knots.
This article was first published in the July 12-19, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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