New Owners Bring Family Touch to Ralph’s Pizza in Haddon Heights

0

Melissa and Craig Winters want to keep the old-school feel of the Station Avenue pizzeria, with a few new menu items from their Garces-trained son-in-law, Chef Jordan Linarez, and a refreshed banquet room.

By Matt Skoufalos | July 3, 2024

Craig and Melissa Winters at Ralph’s Pizza in Haddon Heights. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

When Melissa and Craig Winters of Medford began looking for an investment property to jumpstart their retirement goals, they wanted to find a business rooted in a classic Main Street community.

The couple toured a number of storefronts in a handful of South Jersey communities, but fell in love with Haddon Heights.

Melissa’s college friend had talked up the charm of the historic borough, and when the Winters family learned that its long-tenured pizzeria, Ralph’s, was up for sale, the opportunity to acquire it was too good to pass up.

“We didn’t want to be in a shopping center,” Melissa Winters said. “We didn’t want people to just come in and leave. We wanted some place that had foot traffic and regulars.”

“As we were thinking about purchasing the restaurant, we would park over here and just walk around, trying to get a feel for the neighborhood,” Craig Winters said. “It’s a fabulous town with a great feel.”

“We just couldn’t believe how beautiful it was,” Melissa Winters said.

Ralph and Kathie Villano established Ralph’s Pizza in 1985, and operated it for almost 32 years, Kathie Villano said; prior to that the storefront had been The Pizza Factory for about 14 years. The business passed to Joe Fermano and Augie Martinez in 2017 before the Winters family acquired it last month.

 

They believe the restaurant is the perfect venue to showcase the talents of their son-in-law, Chef Jordan Linarez, while maintaining the pizza recipes that have kept neighbors returning for slice after slice through the years.

“We had our feelers out to see what can we do to incorporate Jordan’s talent and his skills,” Melissa Winters said. “He saw the opportunity with that back room to open up a restaurant.”

Linarez, who studied culinary arts at Rowan College of Burlington County, came up under the Garces Group of Philadelphia, working for eight years in kitchens at Amada, Volver, Village Whiskey, Olde Bar, and Distrito.

He foresees the biggest opportunity at Ralph’s in reviving the rear banquet space, formerly known as the Francesca Room, as a trattoria. Designer Stephanie Monaco will be overseeing its look and feel, while Linarez crafts an expanded dine-in menu featuring homemade pasta dishes and other classic flavors.

“I’m really looking forward to bringing the dining room to life,” Linarez said; “new types of methods and some old-school dishes that will fit in perfectly with Ralph’s Pizza.

“I’m trying to go with some homemade, fresh stuff,” he said. “I think we have great potential and I think we can elevate the food.”

Pizzaiolo John Malo and new owner Melissa Winters at Ralph’s Pizza in Haddon Heights. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

At the same time, the new owners don’t plan to make any changes to the familiar pizza menu at Ralph’s, nor any of its long-tenured staff.

Pizzaiolo John Malo, who’s been with the restaurant for 30 years, said he’s optimistic about the future there based on its consistency.

“We’ll keep it the same, and that’s what’s made the business a success,” Malo said. “There’s going to be no changes. The pizza’s still the same. The ingredients, still the same.”

Sunny Gilfillan, who’s worked the counter at Ralph’s for the past six years, said she feels at home there amid its regular patrons.

“It’s nice to work with so many familiar people in a town and not a corporate environment,” Gilfillan said.

According to Malo, the most popular special pizzas at Ralph’s are the margherita and garlic-and-tomato; Gilfillan said customers also clamor for its cheesesteaks.

For Melissa Winters, it’s the mango habanero chicken cheesesteak or bruschetta pizza with balsamic glaze, while Craig Winters is a fan of the meatball parmesan sandwich.

“As soon as we started looking into this, my husband and I came in at least every other weekend starting in May,” Melissa Winter said. “I didn’t have anything I didn’t like.”

The vintage dining room at Ralph’s Pizza Haddon Heights will stay the same; the rear banquet room is poised for an update. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

In addition to reopening the banquet room for dine-in guests, Ralph’s new owners also plan to open the business on Sunday starting in September, the better to facilitate orders during football season.

Christina Linarez, Jordan’s wife, is drafting a calendar of events for the room, as well as banquet and offsite catering menus.

The remainder of the family also has jumped into the business with gusto.

Craig and Melissa’s son Jason is tackling inventory, deliveries, prep and dishes; sister Riley handles the social media accounts, and sisters Kelly and Katelyn offer quality control help (in the form of tasting).

“All of the kids joined in and said I want to help with this,” Melissa Winters said. “Everybody’s got a role to play.”

“The way we’ve thought about it is it’s a family venture,” Craig Winters said. “It feels like a family business, and everybody’s part of the family.”

Ralph’s Pizza is located at 520 Station Avenue in Haddon Heights. For more information, call 856-547-0030, or visit the business website.

NOTE: An earlier version of this story mistakenly identified the establishment of Ralph’s Pizza as the mid-1990s, not the mid-1980s. 

Please support NJ Pen with a subscription. Get e-mails, or follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Share.

Comments are closed.