From his family to yours: Arlington restaurateur rides regulars’ loyalty to thriving business

08/19/2014 12:00 AM

08/18/2014 2:06 PM

Prespa’s Italian Restaurant on Arkansas Lane in Dalworthington Gardens is the kind of friendly spot where the regulars (owner Steve Emini estimates they make up 85 percent of his diners) not only have menu favorites but have also staked out the tables and booths where they like to dine.

“I pretty much know who they are,” Emini said of his customers. “If they don’t see me for two or three days, they say, ‘Where have you been?’ I like that, I like that a lot.”

Prespa’s, like other independent Arlington restaurants such as The Original Arlington Steak House, Catfish Sam’s, Jay Jay’s Cafe and more, proves that there is an appetite for owner operated eateries in a city often panned for its number of chain restaurants.

There’s heritage in Prespa’s name.

“I’m from Prespa, Macedonia, on the borderline with Greece and Albania,” said Emini, who spent 30 years in Chicago before moving the family to Texas in 2002. “We have a nice beautiful lake there, a lot of mountains, four seasons.”

The cooks at the 12-year-old Prespa’s have all been with Steve and Albana Emini for a decade or more. Emini brags that he hasn’t raised menu prices in four years.

Entrees are $6.95 to $11.95, with a couple of $12.95 selections. The menu is heavily poultry, with chicken penne vodka, chicken marsala, and chicken florentino among the most-ordered dishes. The lasagna and the linguini with clam sauce are other house specialties.

It’s a place with stability. Only the cheese ravioli and the uncooked pastas are made off-premises. The fist-size rolls are baked twice a day. There’s a closely guarded secret to the marinara sauce.

The servers are Arlington High School students or graduates. That’s where the Eminis’ son, Alban, 18, graduated this year, and where daughter, Renata, 15, will enter as a freshman this month.

“Everybody that works for us lives within 3 or 4 miles from here,” Emini said. “Most [of the servers], their sisters have worked for us. As the kids grow up, older ones go to college and their sisters or cousins come to work for us.”

The southwest Arlington location off Sublett Road, operated by Emini’s brother, hires Martin High School students. Its customers tend to come from Arlington, Kennedale and Mansfield.

A third location of Prespa’s opened a few weeks ago on the Fort Worth-Burleson line.

“We weren’t planning on it; it just happens,” Emini said of the family’s newest restaurant. “You run across a nice location, you give it a shot, see what happens.”

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