An evolution of food

Published 7:52 pm Thursday, February 16, 2012

Off the Water photo/CRAIG HAUPERT There are many places to enjoy a meal at Brewster’s, including an atrium that owner Maria Mortellaro says is beautiful in the falling snow.

Maria Mortellaro believes you have to keep reinventing yourself in order to be successful.

The owner of Brewster’s Italian Cafe in downtown New Buffalo has applied that belief to her life and her business.

Mortellaro never intended on running a restaurant while growing up in Detroit. She graduated from Michigan State with a degree in broadcast journalism before moving to Chicago with friends and waiting tables.

She eventually began managing the restaurant of a large hotel chain before realizing she was ready to get out of the city.

So, in 1992, Mortellaro and her now ex-husband opened Brewster’s Italian Cafe at 11 W. Merchant St. in New Buffalo.

It started out as a small coffee shop — one of the first in town to have an espresso machine — but slowly evolved over the years into a full-service restaurant.
Mortellaro can barely remember what it looked like 20 years ago.

“People ask me if I have pictures of the place from back then, and I wish I did,” she said.

“It is amazing to think how it has changed. We’ve just grown into ourselves.”

Brewster’s Italian Cafe is known for its wood-fire pizzas and large-portion pasta meals.

The menu changes every meal, every day, with a few exceptions for local favorites.

“It is based on the premise of that is how an Italian grandmother would cook,” said

Mortellaro, whose grandparents immigrated to America from Italy. “You’d go to the market and what is fresh that day is what they’d cook.”

The restaurant has two fireplaces, a bar, atrium, wine room and multiple seating areas, inside and out. The outside garden area is open from Memorial Day to around late October, depending on the weather.

Mortellaro even fought with the city to keep a few trees on the property.

“I’m pretty proud we’ve been able to maintain that,” she said.

Mortellaro said she has a couple employees that have stayed with her all 20 years, creating a real family atmosphere.

She is glad she took a chance on opening the restaurant all those years ago.

“I fell into a business that really suits me and has been a blessing,” she said. “When my kids were little I could leave to go to field trips and school parties. It has been wonderful.”