Welcome to Bella’s Cafe: Where Everyone Is Family
Tucked away in the tiny downtown of Barnegat, New Jersey, is an unexpected gem.
Welcome to Bella’s Café, a warm and cozy European-style café serving lunch and dinner, deliciously decadent desserts and hot & cold blended beverages, and where owners Mark and Dee Falk pride themselves on treating everyone like close family.
Falk, an entrepreneur who has owned several businesses over the last few decades, said he came to the quaint shore town 19 years ago from North Jersey and discovered a gastronomic void.
“We found that there were no bistro or café type restaurants that focused on a different type of a menu,” Falk told JerseyShoreVibe. “We thought, “How great would it be to have a warm & cozy café with a European feel?”
The couple turned their dream into a reality and opened Bella’s in 2018.
“At first the menu was designed around the original idea of high-end desserts and specialty hot and cold blended beverages,” Falk said. “We added to the idea with over 20 different hot and cold blended beverages, all borne from carefully formulated home-grown recipes, so that nothing would taste like the fast food environment of a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts.”
After just a few months the Falks quickly established a customer base.
“They kept joking about the fact that they sometimes need a little real food before spoiling themselves with the decadent desserts we offer,” he said.
And that’s when the restaurateurs crafted a menu that would at once offer some traditional favorites while also featuring some unique dishes.
“My favorite menu items would have to be the Crème Brulee Cheesecake and the “Grilled” Meatball Dinner Plate, served with red bliss potatoes and a vegetable of the day,” Falk notes. “Besides our menu, the ambiance is very unique and is one of the major things our customers are drawn to. The building is about 117 years old, with original wood flooring, so it is a very different setting from the moment you walk in.”
The café is intentionally dark, which adds to the cozy and comfortable feel, complete with small fireplaces and couches. The eatery has no WiFi, which Falk says customers appreciate.
“People love the fact that we encourage good old-fashioned conversation, rather than staring at a phone or tablet,” he said.
To add to the European bistro-style vibe, the Falks decided to throw entertainment into the mix, which they say gives their customers an all-inclusive, one-of-a-kind experience.
The café has featured several acts, including “The Fully Frank (Sinatra) Show with Nick Somodi, and the Harrington Sisters. A full lineup is planned over the coming months.
While the café is clearly a labor of love, Falk said there have been the usual challenges that all new business owners face.
“There were many challenges, especially since Dee and I have never done any type of a food establishment before, so basically everything was a challenge,” he says. “What saved us was the fact that Dee is just amazing in the kitchen, while I’m pretty good on the business end of things, so after about eight months now we are much more comfortable, but still learning every day of course.”
But perhaps the most satisfying aspect of business ownership is the opportunity to connect to the community.
“We believe in being involved in the community, and as parents of four grown children, we wanted to do something that fostered a positive and supportive environment for local children,” Falk says.
As a result, the Falks partnered with Annette Tynan, an art director at two local elementary schools, who had her students create artwork to showcase at Bella’s. “It’s a wonderful way for the children to showcase their art in a public environment,” Falk says. “We love it when the parents bring their children into the café to see their work, and when they do we make a point of making them feel very special by loudly announcing that we have an artist in the house. Everyone gives the child a special round of applause, in turn boosting their sense of accomplishment, pride and self-esteem. It’s really-wonderful watching the children smile from ear-to-ear when their name is announced in the café.”
And the best part about owning a business?
“I think Dee and I would both agree that one of the most enjoyable aspects of owning a restaurant, at least for us, is coming out of the kitchen and engaging every single customer that walks in,” Falk said. “It is part of our culture at Bella’s, where everyone--Dee and I and the servers--makes a point of getting to know everyone and not just treating them like another table. Every single person that walks into Bella’s Café is treated like a close family member. Walking into Bella’s Café is like walking into your best friend’s house. We wouldn’t have it any other way. We will always be an intimate little spot in Barnegat that makes everyone feel right at home.”
Visit Bella’s Café at 689 East Bay Ave., Barnegat, NJ 08005 bellas-cafe.com/ 609-713-3684