Sharon Boccelli does not have a restaurant background, but she says, with a laugh, "I come from a big Italian family, so I thought, 'How hard could it be?' Ha!"
There is a lot of humor and irony sprinkled throughout Sharon's conversation. She's got a little Boston accent and a lot of Boston attitude.
Boccelli's on the Canal on Canal Street in Bellows Falls is in fact her first restaurant. Prior to that she was in the auction business in Cambridge, MA, a business from which, she says, she is semi-retired. What got her into the restaurant business, she says, is that she fell in love with the building that houses Boccelli's.
The one story brick building had long been unoccupied, but at one time it was owned by the Bellows Falls Cooperative Creamery and was where the creamery repaired and maintained its delivery trucks. It was big enough so that when Sharon had it remodeled, she was able to create a restaurant space with one part of it and an open area for auctions on the other.
That space has most frequently been used for live music and art events, especially after the former Oona's Restaurant in The Square burned and the lobby space used for concerts in the Hotel Windham was no longer available. Sharon says hosting a lot of live music at the restaurant is a double-edged sword - it brings in a lot of new faces and businesses, but some of her regulars won't come on music nights because it's too busy.
Despite it's name, Boccelli's is not just an Italian restaurant.
"I'd say we have an eclectic menu kind of bent toward Italian food," Sharon said. "We use a lot of local products, and I don't think people know that about us. Our cheeses, salads, burgers, vegetables, and meats we try to get all local and organic. We try to buy from as many local growers as possible.
"We also make everything from scratch. We make our own salad dressings, our own meatballs, we make our own chicken and eggplant parmigiana, our own shrimp scampi."
There is one pretty consistent theme to the food - garlic.
"If you don't like garlic, don't come here," Sharon said. "We've got it written on the backs of our shirts, Boccelli's 'where garlic is a vegetable - not a condiment.'"
While her committment to local fresh and organic food is important to Sharon and her customers, she also notes that it has its drawbacks, particularly price.
"I pay $9 a pound for my salad greens," she said, "as opposed to paying $2.50 a pound from a distributor."
While good local food is more expensive, you can't always pass all that expense on to the customer, and keep them coming back. So prices at Boccelli's remain reasonable, and the menu includes everything from full meals to meatball sandwiches and a delicious, inexpensive cheese and vegetable covered bruschetta that she throws on the grill for a quick heating up.
"Our menu changes seasonally, though we always have the eggplant parmigiana, the chicken parmigiana and the shrimp scampi," Sharon said. "I mostly learned to cook from my grandmother. Janessa (Purney, her sous chef) and I make up most of the recipes. There isn't another place like us around. Some people love us, some don't.
"We have a lot of gluten free food on the menu. We want people to see that you don't have to eat bad food or high calorie food for it to be tasty."