Talking about Joseph's Pizza with Susie Bateh and Sandra Bateh-Hanania
1. Tell us about Joseph's Pizza.
Joseph's Pizza is a family owned restaurant that's been around since 1956. We serve pizza and classic Italian dishes. We also have an in-store bakery that bakes bread daily for the restaurant and for take-out. Everything we serve is homemade from scratch and made without preservatives. That includes our sauces and salad dressings, which we also use in-house and have available for take-out.
We serve lunch and dinner with brunch added on the weekends.
2. Can you tell about your style of Italian cooking?
It's not just from one region although it is mostly done in the Southern Italian style which uses heartier sauces and meats. For example, we don't have a watery marinara sauce - ours is thicker. Northern sauces use a lot of olive oils and garlic and have a lighter taste, whereas Southern cooking uses more red sauces, meats and Alfredos. In addition to this we have an emphasis on crafting our dishes in house, by hand. For example, we hand roll our manicotti and cannelloni. Our lasagna is hand made too. We grind our meats fresh in-house and make our own Italian sausage and meatballs.
…do you sell your Italian sausage and meatballs to go as well?
We do, especially during the holidays. At Thanksgiving we get a lot of demand for our Italian sausage to use for stuffing.
3. Why did you decide to grind your own sausages?
Because they're delicious! Our sausages are fresh and we know what's in them - we know the type of beef, the type of pork. We've been making our sausages for over 50 years, so why change something that's working so well? We have people who drive through from the Carolinas every year on their way to the Keys who come by to pick up an order of our sausage. There's something about having the traditional, homemade stuff rather than store-bought processed food.
4. How would you describe your pizza? What makes it different from other pizza?
Our classic, Joseph's pizza crust is a nice, firm crust with more texture than a New York style pizza but less than a Chicago style pizza. You can order a 10-item Joseph's Special Pizza, which is one of our most popular, and eat a slice without having the slice flip on you. To get a crust like that we cook it for 30 minutes on stone. It's a slow cooked pizza.
5. Why do you slow cook your pizza?
We like our pizzas to cook in process, which means that everything cooks at the same time - the crust, the sauce and the toppings. This ensures that the vegetables are thoroughly and properly cooked while the crust is proofed. We start by cooking our pizza for 20 minutes in a pan in the oven, then we take it out and finish it for 10 minutes directly on the stone, which gives a really nice crunch to the crust.
We also have a gourmet style pizza which is thinner and very crispy. It uses a double baked crust. We bake the crust once, directly on the stone. We then take it out, add the toppings, and bake it again on the stone. This makes for a very crispy style crust that is also quite thin.
6. Which pizzas are the most popular?
Our traditional pizzas are.
7. And haven't you recently added a gluten-free pizza?
Yes, we've had it for almost two years now. We offer both gluten-free pizza and gluten-free pasta. We had customers who started asking us for a gluten-free offering. We searched around to find something that would represent the same high quality we have in everything else we make. We ultimately decided to have the pizza crusts made in a special facility that only makes gluten-free products. We use a lot of flour in our restaurant and bakery and we didn't want to contaminate any of the gluten-free items with the flour. We bring the crusts in frozen and bake the pizzas to order in a part of the oven reserved for gluten-free products. The pizzas are then sliced on a board that is just used for our gluten-free pizzas.
For the pasta we make each serving to order. When someone orders gluten-free pasta we ask for a few minutes extra and we'll boil their pasta fresh in a separate pot.
8. What's been the response to your gluten-free items?
It's been overwhelmingly positive. People really love the taste of the pizza crust. So many times gluten-free can taste like cardboard. Our customers are coming up to us all the time telling us how amazing our gluten-free crust is - it's tender and flavorful. We took a long time and went through a lot of tests to select the crust we use. The quality and taste are so important to us that we didn't want to rush out and get the first thing we could find. We're used to making everything ourselves and just because we chose to bring this in from outside we still felt it was important to have the same standards we'd have if we were making the crust ourselves. If customers don't like it, we don't want it.
9. You also have a lot of vegan items...
Yes. Just like the demand for gluten-free, we started getting a lot of requests for vegan items. We're not vegans ourselves but we realized that a lot of our items are complementary to a vegan diet so we point that out on our menu so that people who do want to eat vegan are aware that they can do so at Joseph's. Because we cook to order it's also very easy for us to adapt many of our dishes for a vegan lifestyle. For example, if we leave the parmesan cheese off our shrimp scampi it is completely vegan. We're very flexible about working with special orders and we encourage people to let us know when they have a special request. That goes beyond gluten-free and vegan. If your child can't have cream, for instance, just let us know and we'll leave it out of anything we sauté.
10. Are pizza toppings changing or do they stay pretty consistent?
Toppings are changing all the time. Last year bacon was really popular. We've used Canadian bacon for 40 years but we only introduced US style bacon last year because we had such demand for it. Gyros are also popular now so we've created a gyro pizza.
With toppings, pretty well anything we put out there people will try. If we offer salmon or butternut squash as toppings, people will try them out. 25 years ago that wasn't the case. Our father brought out a whole wheat crust 25 years ago and it didn't sell at all. We ate it but nobody else did. We had to take it off the menu until about 8 years ago when we brought it back. People started asking for whole wheat crusts and we went to the safe and pulled out the original recipe. We made whole wheat pizza crusts and sub rolls and now they're really popular. Fortunately our baker is still the same baker who made the original whole wheat recipe.
A sauce that's become very popular is the Alla Rosa which is a sautéed combination of our homemade Alfredo and Marinara sauces. It's available on pizza and on our pasta dishes.
11. Do most people come to Joseph's for your pizza or your other items?
It's about 60% pizza and 40% other dishes.
12. Do you offer delivery for your pizza?
We deliver for catering events. At our Atlantic Beach location we use doorstep delivery for individual orders, which is a third party who provides delivery for multiple different restaurants.
13. Who is the audience for your catering?
It's a wide variety. We do everything from business lunches to wedding receptions. We provide a lot of entrees - lasagna, chicken parmigiana and chicken cacciatore are our most requested items. For business meetings we do a lot of sandwich platters and sandwich boxes. We've had golf tournaments ask us for 150 boxed sandwich lunches to serve as part of the event.
14. What would you recommend to someone coming to Joseph's for the first time if they wanted to get a sense of what your cooking is all about?
The first thing to try is our pizza. Americans love pizza and if they find a good pizza they'll keep coming back and will eventually work their way through the other items on the menu. People will often come in for the pizza many times and are really surprised to learn that we have a full bakery to create our own rolls and breads that go into our sandwiches.
15. Which pizza would you recommend?
Unless people have a strong preference for a particular style of pizza I'll tell them to start with one of our pizzas made with the traditional Joseph's crust and then move thicker or thinner from there. You can order a thick, thin, or traditional crust for any pizza on the menu. By starting with the traditional crust you'll get to experience the crust we're really known for. The classic crust is the one that's in-between the thick and the thin versions.
16. What would you recommend to someone who's been a few times and wants to try something different?
Our Fettuccine Alfredo is amazing. It's made from scratch - the eggs are whipped, not powered. We use garlic and parmesan. The Alfredo sauce is creamy and delicious. The chicken is our marinated chicken, so it's got that flavorful seasoning to it. If we use veal we tenderize it ourselves. We also offer the Alfredo with shrimp if you like seafood.
Our Marinara dishes are also excellent and different. We start with our homemade sauce, which is a very rich and flavorful red sauce that we make with many spices. We add in fresh veggies such as carrots, onions and zucchini. You can have it with or without meat. Our blend is quite unique. We're always having people come up to us to try and guess what the spices are.
17. What would you consider to be your signature dish at Joseph's?
There are a few items. Our Marsala is one. We make it with veal or chicken. For Chicken Marsala we start with very fresh chicken which we marinate for 24 hours in olive oil and more than 10 other ingredients. The marinating ensures the chicken is very tender and flavorful. We sauté the chicken to order. The Marsala sauce is made in-house and cooked to order with fresh mushrooms. We add a touch of cream to our sauce which produces a very smooth taste that is different from a lot of marsala sauces.
Another signature dish is our Cauliflower Parmigiana. For the longest time we were one of the only restaurants that served it. We start with pasta and cover it with a layer of our homemade marinara sauce. We then add on fresh cauliflower that has been blanched, hand breaded with our own bread crumbs, and deep fried. Finally, we add mozzarella cheese and bake it all in the oven. It's a very unique dish.
18. What's your most popular dish?
Our lasagna. We start with lean meat that we fresh grind ourselves. Our sauce is homemade and slow cooked for 8 hours. Then we use 4 different cheeses that we layer on. The freshness of the meat and the slowed cooked sauce make all the difference and you can really taste it in the final dish. There are a lot of different ways to make lasagna. I think that when people discover our lasagna they tend to stick with it which is why it's become our most popular item.
19. What's your favorite item at Joseph's?
Susie: I love the Cauliflower Parmigiana.
Sandra: we have an amazing fish sandwich. We start with a lightly battered piece of fresh fish. I like it deep fried but it also comes baked. It's served on a flat roll from our bakery along with our homemade Thousand Islands dressing, lettuce and tomatoes. It's really good! If I’m having pizza then my favorite is the Joseph’s Special Pizza.
20. Where do you eat out when you're not eating at Joseph's?
Susie: to another local restaurant like Ocean 60 or Tuptim Thai.
Sandra: definitely something local.
21. You're carrying craft beers now…
Yes. We're always listening to our customers. When they started asking about craft beers we had to look into it because we really didn't know a lot about them. We listened and we responded. We're a local restaurant and it's important to us to listen to our customers to make sure we always have things they want.
22. Can you tell us about your desserts?
We have our homemade Cannolis using an original family recipe. We also have tiramisu and other things too. We also have an amazing gelato that's made by an Italian gentleman for us. We get a lot of compliments from people who tell us it reminds them of the gelato they get in Italy. We carry 9 different flavors. The coconut-almond-fudge gelato is amazing! People order it when they eat in but you can also drop by just for a gelato.
23. Can you tell us about your craft and pizza day?
It's held every Tuesday night. Kids come in and can make their own pizzas. We give them a crust and they add the sauce and toppings.
24. Are kids adventurous with their toppings?
Yes, more then you'd think. They'll put on an Alfredo sauce. They're not afraid of garlic, zucchini, or spinach either.
25. Can you tell us about your weekend brunch?
We start brunch at 10am on Saturday and Sunday. We start off with our bottomless Mimosas, which are very popular. We have Zeppoles - they're made from our homemade dough, which is deep fried then covered with powdered sugar, cinnamon and a side of raspberry sauce. It's an Italian form of a doughnut. We make our Frittatas to order. We also feature our breakfast pizzas, which are amazing. As kids we were bribed with breakfast pizza to come to work on the weekend. We have amazing dough pockets made with homemade sausage, egg and cheese, or ham, egg and cheese. Now we're also doing bacon, egg and cheese. All the flavoring from the meat, egg and cheese cooks into the crust. We also do a French Toast using our Italian bread.
26. Where do your recipes come from?
Our father was the original creator for most of our recipes. He loved to tinker in the kitchen to try things out. Now it's the team - our family. When we have a new idea we sit down and discuss it. When we find something we want to try out we'll go to our larger restaurant on North Main St. and open the kitchen. We'll start cooking and handing out samples to our customers to see what they think. We can spend many days testing new recipes this way. Our customers are great for giving us their feedback. They're loyal and they're honest. They'll tell us when they like something and when they don't.
27. How do you come up with the original ideas?
Often we start with a seasonal item - something like butternut squash. We'll play around and see what we can do with it. Then we'll ask customers for feedback and take it from there.
A lot of things just come from trying new ideas. Our father used to do that all the time. One time he was playing around with dough and came up with a pepperoni roll and ham roll. It's a square piece of dough, like a calzone. We put in meat and cheese and fold it into a square pocket. Someone came in one day and he asked them to try the roll. They loved it and soon he couldn't keep enough of them. We probably go through 50 a day now. They're great for kids to take to school or to pack for a football game. That came from our father just giving out something to see what his customers thought.
28. Do your salad dressing recipes change over time?
No. The recipes are about 40 years old. Our suppliers will come in and tell us that they have this amazing dressing - it might even be made by someone who used to own a restaurant. But you know - we didn't make it and it wouldn't be ours. We've been making our recipes for 40 years. We know what's in them. They're well received by our customers because they're delicious. If we did even one small change our customers would let us know.
29. You have a pretty extensive menu and yet you cook everything to order. How do you manage your kitchen?
It's a big challenge. Not only do we have a large selection but we deal with a lot of raw foods and specialty items like our gluten-free offerings. We're very blessed in our staff. Our baker has been with us since 1983. Our cooks have been with us for a long time too - nearly 15 years. So it's really our staff who make it possible.
30. Can you tell us about the history of Joseph's?
It was started by our father. He was originally from San Francisco. He was working there in the grocery business.
31. What brought him to Jacksonville?
Our father loved to create. The grocery business was work but it wasn't creative work. One day he decided to open a restaurant to give him a place to create. He was like the Iron Chef. He could create something around just one ingredient.
He was always open to learning new things too. We carry that tradition forward. If we hire a new cook we'll tell them to learn our menu exactly as we want you to. Then, on Wednesday you can create something for us to taste and we'll put it on special for you. To be a cook you need to be an artist who likes to create. And that's exactly how we run our restaurant today.
32. Can you tell us about your first store on Main St.?
Our father bought it from the previous owner in 1956 and we've been there ever since. He worked with the previous owner for a few weeks to learn the menu, which at that time was less than 10 items - it was just pizza and bread. It remained that way for a few years until our dad created the Italian sausage, the meat sauce and the marinara. These became the classics.
We were raised in that restaurant. In 1956 Main St. was the major thoroughfare in Jacksonville. There was no I-95. When we were growing up it wasn't uncommon for customers to come in and go straight into the kitchen to say hi to Joe to see how he was doing. Times have changed but the location still works for us. It's nestled in a very good neighborhood.
33. What attracted you to Atlantic Beach?
We enjoy the beach. We wanted to be part of a neighborhood. We're very community oriented and want to be involved with the communities were located in.
34. What do you like the most about running Joseph's?
It's the customers and our staff. If our staff is like our family, our customers are like our extended family - they're our family and our friends. We have a lot of long term clients - and staff too. Our staff will be with us as long as they want to be because they're family. We can't be there every hour of the day so we rely on our staff to help run the restaurants. We're very fortunate in that regard.
35. What's next for Joseph's?
Our long term interest is to find a way to package some of our items for retail sales. Items such as our Calzones, our rolls, and our dressings. People come in all the time to order these to take home and we'd like to extend that to a bigger audience in the grocery space.