Fifteen years ago, Villa Dolce owners Faton Lumani and his brother Jerry had a dream of opening an Italian café like those they grew up with. A place with great pizza, wine to savor and sweet gelato. A small, intimate venue where people could talk and connect.
At first, the menu was simple, but in time, they added homemade pastas and a full bar to expand their café in Middleton’s historic Weinberg Building, home to the city’s first post office, library and beauty shop.
“The customers, they tell you what they like, you listen, and that’s how you evolve,” Lumani said.
For the brothers and their wives, who also own and operate nearby restaurant Sofra Family Bistro, knowing the Middleton community was key to making the last 15 years a success. It would be that same relationship that would keep Villa Dolce afloat as the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged businesses for more than a year.
“You didn’t know what was going to happen, every day,” Lumani said.
Despite all the uncertainty, the families and their employees banded together to serve an elevated takeout menu for the people they had come to know and love in the Middleton area.
“Thanks to the community that gave us that support. We stayed very busy through the pandemic with takeout. Really, I cannot say enough about Middleton and how much they supported us. Without them, no. We couldn’t have survived,” Lumani said.
Customers made a point to ensure the Lumani families felt that love, with some ordering carryout up to three times a week to help keep the restaurant afloat.
An abundance of fresh ingredients, sourced locally whenever possible, made to order pastas, and house-made gelato and desserts make it easy to want to support such a tasty venue. Villa Dolce enjoys supporting other Middleton businesses along the way too, like serving breads and princess tortes made less than a mile up the road at Clasen’s European Bakery.
As for the future, Faton and his wife Luda are hopeful. They’re planning to do a little sprucing up and redecorating to make the café even cozier and are looking forward to more opportunities to share their love of Italian fare with their customers.
“Community is what keeps us going,” Lumani said. “We would not be here without them.”
Villa Dolce Café
1828 Parmenter St., Middleton, WI
Open 5-9 p.m., Monday-Saturday