Restaurant owners say they won’t sacrifice quality despite rising prices

Cara DeLalla attributes her love of food to her Italian heritage. “When you grow up in an Italian household, you have to learn to cook and to appreciate good food,” DeLalla said, adding that her mother is the best cook she knows.

Although mother and daughter went into the real estate business, DeLalla said food was always the great passion of her life and she has now partnered with her mother to pursue that passion. “I have traveled internationally and wherever I go, I am fascinated by street food. Until about 2007, there wasn’t much available in this area in the way of mobile food trucks, and what there was wasn’t remarkable,” she said.

“By 2014, I decided that I wanted to become more involved with my true passion,” recalled DeLalla, who describes herself as a third-generation Italian American. “Most of the good Italian food in this area is at high-end restaurants, but I know everyday Italian food can be outstanding when it’s properly prepared with quality ingredients.”

Building a menu around the mother’s meatballs, the mother-daughter duo founded Meatballerz, first as a food truck and later as a brick-and-mortar store in DeKalb County’s Embry Hills area. “It hasn’t been an easy journey,” DeLalla acknowledged. “The first truck we had was cute, but it was so small my brother couldn’t stand upright in it. I don’t remember how many times it broke down, but we kept going. We kept pushing forward because that’s what ownership means—you keep going.”

DeLalla said 2020 brought their first big opportunities with the store on Presidential Parkway in Embry Hills in addition to the food truck, but it also brought the challenges that nearly all businesses faced with the onset of COVID-19. “There was still a demand for takeout food, which was a large part of our business, but prices of food, energy—all the things we needed to run the business—were going up. Some restaurants dealt with it by raising prices, reducing quality or both. Some price increases have been unavoidable, but we’ve tried to raise prices no more than absolutely necessary. We don’t want to scare away our longtime customers,” she added.

“The one thing that we won’t do is reduce quality. We’re going to use the same high-quality ingredients, and my mother still hand rolls and weighs the meatballs like she’s done from day one. She has a prep team, but she still does the cooking herself,” DeLalla said.

“I’m proud to say that we have customers who have been coming to us for years who tell us the food they get at Meatballerz today is as good as it was the first time they came in,” she continued. “The food is not like you’ll find in any other restaurant. It’s more like something you would be served in your grandmother’s kitchen.”

DeLalla said Meatballerz uses local sources when possible. The restaurant’s bread, for example, comes from a local neighborhood bakery, and the meat comes from a local meat market. “I believe small businesses should support each other,” she said. “I think that builds a stronger community.”

While traditional Italian meatballs made with beef and pork are Meatballerz’ signature product, the eatery also now offers turkey meatballs and a vegetable-based option. “It took an effort to get my mother to go along with that,” DeLalla said with a laugh. The menu also includes chicken parmesan, pizza and other options.

Businesses should be about personal passion, according to DeLalla. “A business owner should have a high level of enthusiasm about the business and enrich the community by bringing something special to it. Starting a business is not a get-rich-quick scheme. My mother and I both took massive pay cuts to start this business, but we’ve built something we can be proud of—and that’s worth more than money. People should realize when they patronize a small family-owned business, they are keeping someone’s dream alive.”

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