Lunch has gotten a bit scarcer in Norwalk. The Norwalk Berardi's closed Dec. 15.
It's not out of business. Owners Larry and Denise Waaland have merged their business with Sandusky's Lunch Box to form Catering by Design. Deb Bingham, owner of the Lunch Box, and Denise Waaland have been friends since childhood.
When the Waalands opened the Berardi's at 204 Cleveland Road, it was both a restaurant and caterer. As both businesses have grown over the last 4 1/2 years, one or the other had to go. The Waalands tried selling their current location and get a bigger building that could support both endeavors, but the building didn't sell.
So Bingham put her Lunch Box for sale too, and they decided that whoever sold first would go to the other's location for their catering endeavors. The Lunch Box sold first.
The new partners chose to focus on catering and not on the restaurant because it's both more creative and more reliable. "It's where my heart is," Denise Waaland said.
The lunch crowd can change from day to day, but with catering, if somebody's ordered for 50, you get paid for 50. Catering by Design also does extensive presentation called "table-scaping." As Larry Waaland put it, you eat with the eyes before you eat with the mouth.
Berardi's is, of course, a famous name in food in the area. It was Denise's father who started selling french fries at Cedar Point at the beginning of World War II.
The Italian immigrant wanted to serve pizza, Denise Waaland said, but his mother said, "No, we're American now, serve french fries."
"But Mom," the family story goes, "french fries aren't American either."
The rest is, as they say history. Denise and Larry were part of Berardi's (next to Aldi) until that restaurant closed. After that, they worked out of the house for a couple years, throwing dinner parties.
Bingham said she got into catering in her own way. Twenty-three years ago, Jim Murray of Murray and Murray came into the Lunch Box and told Deb he was having an open house and he wanted her to cater it. "I don't do catering," she said. "You do now," he rejoined.
Today, the catering business is booming for the new partners. They currently are working between four and five jobs each day. They have seven full-time and 10 to 15 part-time employees, and they do events that range from a handful of people to more than 500.
On top of that, a Cleveland-based company is interested in bringing Bingham's recipe for sauerkraut balls to grocery stores. So Berardi's may soon be famous for something other than french fries.