The first thing that you notice when you walk into Babbo Italian Eatery, 6855 N. 16th St., is the smell of freshly baked bread. It’s a customer favorite that owner Ken Pollack says was created minutes before he opened his first restaurant in 2009.
Today, his family business has eight Babbo’s located throughout the Valley with his wife, Charlotte, and their three sons and daughter working in various positions throughout the company.
“What really put us on the map was our billboard for spaghetti and meatballs for $6.99,” recalls Pollack. The restaurants still offer that same deal all day, every Monday and Tuesday.
“People think we’re a big corporation but (we are) a small family business,” Pollack explains. And just like family meals crafted at home, all the food at Babbo is made from scratch. The sauces are freshly made, as are the salad dressings. Charlotte’s own recipe for the ranch dressing is served multiple times a day. Other salad dressing recipes came from other family members and even family members of their employees.
Besides spaghetti and meatballs, there are plenty of options on the menu and you don’t even have to eat pasta. You can request noodles made from zucchini. A few years ago Pollack’s doctor told him he had to drop a few pounds. That led to the creation of new menu items as part of the Chalkboard Menu.
That menu includes items such as sautéed Brussels sprouts and beets with marsala mushrooms, served with toasted walnuts and topped with gorgonzola cheese and breadcrumbs. You can add your choice of meat, including grilled boneless skinless chicken breast, to any dish if you wish. Eating lighter at his own restaurants, where he has at least one meal a day, allowed Pollack to exceed his doctor’s weight-loss benchmark.
Each year the Pollack family takes a hard look at their menu and make any changes they feel will keep their customers fed and satisfied. Recently they added Protein Bowls, which range from $10.95 to $13.95 and offer chicken, steak, shrimp and salmon options.
Daily lunch specials are served between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. You can get a pasta and salad, or pizza and salad combo for $10.50. Fair warning—the Italian sausage is spicy.
Happy Hour is Monday through Friday, 3:30 to 6 p.m. and offers a robust menu. Appetizers ($6) include everything from Stuffed Portabellos and Pistachio Mozzarella to Roasted Asparagus. Or you can order from a number of 8-inch pizzas for $6 each. You can also get a Couples Combo for $25 that includes two small salads, two glasses of wine, and two small pizzas or pastas.
Bar specials include $5 sangria, $6 martinis, margaritas and mojitos, and well drinks. Bottled beer is $3.50.
If you sign up for the e-mail list you will get notices twice a month for specials including Chicken Parmesan for $6.99, and take-and-bake deals on items such as lasagna.
Babbo will be closed on the fourth of July so the employees can hold a company picnic and soccer match. That’s another thing that makes Babbo special. Many of their employees have been with them for five or more years. That’s because Pollack has a mentoring policy.
“Long-time employees mentor the newly hired,” Pollack says. “They learn the culture, learn each station. A lot of our employees started as servers and are now managers.
“There’s some enjoyment in building a company,” he reflects, adding that he started with seven employees and now has close to 500. “It’s inspiring to me to see people grow.”
That growth also has included a robust catering business. No party is too big or too small for Babbo, and that includes weddings. The food is cooked, delivered and served by trained Babbo catering staff.
Pollack also is involved in the communities around his restaurants. Babbo raised $43,000 for Phoenix Children’s Hospital from sales at all eight locations during an April 19 special anniversary event for the restaurants.
Perhaps that’s why the name of the restaurant is so appropriate. “The name Babbo means daddy in Italian,” says Pollack. “I feel like I’m super responsible for everyone and everything involved in this company, from the employees to the families we serve.”
Hours are 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; and 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. You can reach Babbo Italian Eatery by calling 602-279-1500 or visiting the website: www.babboitalian.com.