Who would have thought a random stop in a local parking lot would lead to the birth of a Tappahannock legacy. Almost 35 years ago, Filippo Giambanco and his eldest son, Anthony, were driving from Brooklyn, NY to Petersburg and stopped in Tappahannock to rest. The two were on the way to Petersburg to visit Giambanco’s brother, who owned an Italian restaurant there. The pair were on a quest to find a suitable location to open their own Italian restaurant. Late one night, while taking a rest stop in what is now Tappahannock Towne Center parking lot, Giambanco eyed a “for rent” sign and decided to give the number a call the following day. After several phone calls and meetings with the owners in the following weeks, and some heavy negotiations on Giambanco’s behalf, a Tappahannock tradition was soon born.
Elena and Filippo Giambanco moved their sons, Anthony and Johnny, and daughter, Anna, to Tappahannock. A family tradition was born, along with the first Italian restaurant in the Tappahannock area, Roma’s Ristorante. The family opened their doors in 1976 with a small menu. They served pizza, in various sizes and toppings, submarine sandwiches and basic Italian dishes, such as spaghetti and lasagna, to the locals.
In the beginning, Mamma Giambanco made her favorite traditional Italian homemade sauces and Papa Giambanco helped out with the cooking. Meanwhile, Anthony made pizzas and also helped out with the preparations. Anna waited on customers and ran the cash register. It was a complete family run business in which the parents and children learned the ins and outs of running a successful restaurant. The main focus was to always serve the best Italian cuisine available, in order to keep the customer happy and coming back.
As the children grew up, they married and branched out. They too yearned to own their own Italian restaurants. Today, Anthony and his family own and operate Roma Ristorante on Staples Mill Road in Richmond. Anna and her family own and operate two Roma Ristorante’s, one on Nine Mile Road in Richmond and another which recently opened on Williamsburg Road in Sandston. The youngest Giambanco sibling, Johnny, owns the original Roma’s in Tappahannock.
His parents still help him there. The family also became involved in the community from the beginning. They wanted to give back to the community that was supporting them. Johnny is a staunch supporter of all children in the community and often donates to local ball teams, fundraisers and children’s organizations. The Giambanco’s have given graciously to their new hometown neighbors in numerous ways over the last three decades. The entire family has hearts of gold.
As Johnny grew up in the family business and handled more and more of the day to day operations, he wanted to expand the menu and include more specialized options. He would travel to New York and try different Italian dishes. He would then return home and create his own version in the kitchen at Roma’s. The menu gradually grew from two pages to the now nine pages.
Specialty items abound at Roma’s. There is something for everyone incorporated into the menu of over 250 items. Mama Giambanco’s special spaghetti sauce recipe is still used today and the pizza dough is still made fresh from scratch daily with the finest ingredients. The addition of a full daily salad bar has been a huge success and has all the ingredients to make the perfect salad to compliment your meal.
While perusing the menu, you will find the finest in Italian specialties. You will also see dishes bearing the names of Johnny’s family, including children, Ariana and Gianluca as well as locals that have been dining at Roma Ristorante for decades. The Giambanco’s very first customers are now sharing family meals with their grandchildren at Roma’s, carrying on the family tradition of fine dining with the Giambanco family.
Menu options are some of the most diverse in the area. There is a treasure trove of delicious dishes to be found each time you eat at Roma’s. One will find over 20 gourmet pizzas in addition to your regular favorites, plus soups, salads, sandwiches and delicious submarines with every ingredient imaginable. Roma Ristorante has a delicious mixture of steak and seafood too. Selections include items such as Alaskan snow crab legs, crab cakes, steamed shrimp, bacon wrapped scallops, prime rib, t-bone and Delmonico steaks, just to name a few. A large variety of chicken, eggplant and veal dishes are also included in the well-built menu. Johnny Giambanco has prepared his selections and fine tuned his menu over the years to adapt to customers requests.
When it comes to various pasta dishes, Roma Ristorante may be copied, but never duplicated. There is ravioli, tortellini, spaghetti, and everything in between that you could ever ask for. The sauces (meat, tomato, alfredo, pesto and marinara) are the most unique and tastiest around. The Giambanco’s serve a wonderful assortment of pasta and seafood that will make your taste buds dance with each fine Italian specialty at Roma Ristorante Italiano. There is such an array of delicious choices for lunch and dinner that one could eat something different just about each day Roma’s is open for an entire year. Roma’s has also been voted #1 Italian Restaurant for almost 10 years by readers of the Northern Neck News, also Best Pizza and Best Burger previously.
After 34 years, the family’s dream is becoming a reality with the building of their own restaurant. Roma’s is re-locating behind their original home into a brand new building facing Rts. 360/17. The time has come for all new tables and seating, a modern kitchen, a new banquet room and a spectacular continuation of a Tappahannock tradition. The new Roma Ristorante Italiano will boast a high tech banquet room that is a first for the Tappahannock area. Included will be a 15’ wide screen projector and a state of the art wifi wireless network with Bose surround sound that will be the perfect compliment for local business meetings, awards ceremonies, family reunions and wedding rehearsals/receptions. “And to watch the Cowboys go to and win the Superbowl,” Johnny says.
Johnny Giambanco and his family invite you to dine in their new restaurant and wish for you to continue to enjoy the same favorite Italian specialties as always. Roma‘s motto is “Non c’e amore pui’ sincero Di quello Del Cibo,” “There is no love more sincere than love of food.” The Giambanco’s also graciously send a warm thank-you to all of Tappahannock for welcoming them into the community and your family for over three decades of success and friendships and may there be many more to come in Roma Ristorante Italiano’s new home.
By Melissa Cleaton Shearwood