Sometimes, you find love where you least expect it.
In 2008, that was very much the case for Temple student Carina Formiero, who made her pizza money at a slice shop in Eagleville, Pennsylvania. That’s where she first met Carlo Petrillo, an Italian immigrant who more than made up for his language barrier with kitchen skills and hustle.
“Those people treated me like a slave,” Carlo said of the now-defunct restaurant. “They thought I understood no English, so they’d say, ‘That guy, you can make him do all the dishes.’ They made me do all of the work. But Carina wasn’t like that. She was beautiful and she came from a good family who raised her right.”
Carlo was overworked and underappreciated, but he found a friend in Carina. Before the dinner rush, they’d commiserate over a bite and laugh the stressful shifts away.
“He spoke English….just not great English,” Carina said. “But Carlo felt comfortable with me because my family is from Portugal and I spent my summers there growing up. We were both Europeans, basically. We bonded over that and it turned out we had a lot in common.”
Their relationship grew stronger as Carlo’s English improved. Eventually, they started seeing each other outside of business hours. They went from pizza love to puppy love to real love, and together, they conquered everything life threw at them.
When Carlo couldn’t afford a place to live, Carina offered up a room at her family’s house (“They were fine with it, but we don’t do that in Italy,” Carlo explained. “We got our own place.”) When their pizzeria closed and left them without jobs, Carina told Carlo she would support both of them as a registered nurse. Later, when Carina had second thoughts about her planned career, Carlo had a solution.
“I dropped her off at school and she came back out after ten minutes, pale as a ghost. She was learning how to draw blood and she passed out,” Carlo recalled. “That’s when I said, let me back in the pizza business.”
After two years of dating, Carlo popped the question to Carina. Instead of a lavish wedding, the Petrillos used their family’s money to open their own shop in Phoenixville – Bella Napoli, named after Carlo’s home city.
It was a dream come true for Carlo, who had been making pizzas since he was seven. For Carina, it was the realization of a latent dream. She had the natural savvy and skills needed to manage the operation and shared the same tireless work ethic as her husband.
Love ain’t easy, nor is the restaurant business. For most, the merger of the two would be a strain. No down time. No alone time. Even happily married couples tend to bicker their way through lengthy car rides. How do Carina and Carlo manage to be together 24/7 and run a successful pizzeria?
“We work 12 hours together, every day. I don’t think anyone in this country spends 12 hours with their wife each week because, usually, you spend all day at work, then sleep for eight hours” said Carlo, before pausing. “Well, hopefully you sleep with your wife.”
“People always ask me, ‘How do you do it? Doesn’t she give you a hard time?’ Sure, things happen. We talk. We fight. We talk after. Then, that problem is resolved and we’re ready to handle the next one as a team.”
After ten years in business and eleven years of marriage, Carina agrees that their winning recipe has been open communication.
“We struggled a lot in the beginning, but we built a family together and our customers became our family, too,” said the proud mother of three. “At the end of the day, those relationships and our success brought us even closer. Ten years ago, we were eating hot dogs and mac n’ cheese because of all the money we put into the business. Now, we can eat steak together.”
At least, that’s what they can do for dinner on most nights. On Valentine’s Day, the Petrillos will be at Bella Napoli, making heart-shaped pies for their famiglia estesa.
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Save for an annual family vacation, Carlo and Carina rarely get away from the shop, but for them, it’s all worthwhile.
“We love what we do and we love each other,” Carlo said. “We have no complaints.”
Bella Napoli is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner with pickup and delivery available on the Slice app.