“When I was a kid, we were running around here,” Sheehan said. “We didn’t have babysitters. We had a restaurant staff.”
At age 34, Sheehan became the fourth generation continuing her family’s legacy by running the restaurant.The restaurant is a historical part of the Wyoming Valley, and its roots go back decades. Her great-grandparents Eugenio and Esterina Bettelli moved here from Italy and started Bettelli’s Cafe in the Miners Mills section of Wilkes-Barre in 1941. The family relocated the business in 1952 to Public Square in Wilkes-Barre, where it was called Pizza Casa.
They stayed there for a year after the 1972 flood and then built the present location on Kidder Street in 1975. Her grandmother, the late Pauline Bettelli, designed the restaurant known for its rustic Mediterranean decor with original imported Italian tile and wrought-iron finishes. Sheehan’s mother, Donna Bettelli Postupak, said her mother traveled to Italy and tried to bring back what she saw in little villas.
“My mother was the backbone of this business,” she said.
Postupak earned her master’s degree in education from Temple University and did not originally plan to work in the family’s restaurant business.When her father died in 1978, she said she decided to assist her mother running the business. When Postupak suffered from a brain aneurysm, Sheehan helped out in the business with her grandmother.
Her grandmother worked in the restaurant until she was 80 years old and her success came from hard work, Sheehan said. She later suffered a stroke and died three years ago. Sheehan pledged to keep her family’s restaurant going and she said it is an honor to be running the business.
“It means a lot. I’m excited,” she said. “The biggest thing for me is to maintain what my grandmother provided to us.”
Her mother continues to help out at the restaurant as well. Sheehan’s boyfriend Jeff Kochanski is the chef.
“I’m still carrying on my grandmother’s traditional recipes that she learned from her in-laws but he’s making our pasta now,” Sheehan said. “He’s also a pastry chef.”
Sheehan earned a bachelor’s degree in English and sociology from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia in 2006 and also did not originally plan that her career would be running the restaurant, but she pledged to keep the family business going. “Even if I had taught somewhere, I think no matter what I would have found myself in a hospitality-driven industry,” she said. “It’s just something that I know.”
Just as Sheehan is the fourth generation of her family running the restaurant, they also have customers who have been coming for generations.
“We’ve had people proposed to here, celebrating anniversaries here, birthdays here,” Sheehan said. “It’s so much more special being a part of this small business community than you’ll ever get going to something that’s unfamiliar or maybe too familiar because it’s the same everywhere.”
As chain restaurants in the area have come and gone, Bettelli’s Villa has survived for decades. As a family business, Sheehan said Bettelli’s Villa is one of a kind, which is something that chain restaurants cannot offer.
“Our customer base is loyal,” Sheehan said. “We see the same people weekly and we are starting to generate some new faces. I have been actively trying to get younger people to realize how different this is than fast and convenient and I think we’re succeeding slowly but surely.”
Bettelli’s Villa is most well-known for its pizza, which has remained consistent, Sheehan said. The pizza was originally sold in Miners Mills and coal miners formerly bought it, she said. The recipe has not changed over the years, she said.
“I still use the same spoon my grandmother used,” Sheehan said. “It’s fresh. We make it every day. It’s a labor of love. The cheese is cut here. It’s not something that runs on a conveyor belt with a button on a timer. We have gas-powered ovens. Someone has to spin it, rotate it and rack it.”
Postupak said sometimes she gets calls from people asking if they could get a pizza to go in 10 minutes, but she said everything is made fresh and nothing is made ahead of time. The register also is old-fashioned and not digital, she said.
Other Italian dishes at Bettelli’s Villa also are popular, including its meatballs, Sheehan said.
“People appreciate Italian things like a good sauce and things that take people too long to do at home, like roasting a chicken for hours,” she said. “All of our stuff is locally sourced. We support the farmers markets and we really try to stay as close to here as possible.”
Bettelli’s Villa is open for lunch two days a week, Wednesday and Friday, beginning at 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, the restaurant is open from 4 to 10 p.m.