Despite an influx of new eating establishments, Mario Bernardone says his family restaurant fills a special niche and has a steady group of loyal customers

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FARMINGTON — Owners of a Farmington restaurant recently received a statewide honor for entrepreneurship and successful business management.

Mario and Laura Bernardone, owners of the Trattoria Di Bernardone restaurant, received a "Star Client" award from the New Mexico Small Business Development Center, and were invited to Santa Fe for a reception and ceremony last month. Lt. Gov. John Sanchez presented the couple with a plaque and certificate at the State Capitol in honor of their achievements.

Each year, the state small business development centers recognize clients of district centers from various U.S. cities that have demonstrated commitment to their business and their communities. Each small business development center district throughout the state has an opportunity to select a success story to receive the honor.

Mario Bernardone said he was honored that he and his wife were this year's local recipient.

"We got invited by the (local) SBDC to be their Star Client as they assisted us in 2005 to get started building our first restaurant," said Bernardone. "Carmen Martinez was our counselor at the time. She stayed in touch over the years and has been so helpful, even during the time we managed to build our second restaurant in our dream location."

Carmen Martinez, who now serves as director of the Farmington SBDC, located at San Juan College, said the Bernardones were a natural choice for this year's Star Client award, not only because of their long-term success despite a tough economic environment, but because of the effective cooperation they utilize in their day-to-day business practices.

"For me, it's about their longevity and their work ethic," said Martinez. "They had a vision and they were able to fulfill it through teamwork, and it's great how they involve the whole family. We at the SBDC like to reach out to people we've helped to see what they still need, and we worked with them and helped them plan their new location."

Bernardone said the certificate he and his wife received in Santa Fe stated that the couple had made important contributions to the economic well-being of Farmington and the State of New Mexico.

Bernardone described the evolution of his family's restaurant.

With the help of San Juan College's SBDC, the couple opened Bernardone's Family Pizzeria on West Main Street in 2008. The restaurant, which specialized in homemade pastas, sauces, pizzas and gelatos, did so well that the couple decided to build at a new, more centralized location at 5520 East Main Street. They opened that restaurant, which resembles an Italian villa, in 2015 with a slightly different name. The trattoria has the same specialties and also offers some additional dishes.

Bernardone said that when a non-chain restaurant such as his first opens, it starts off really well because customers are curious to come check it out.

"Then there's sort-of a downturn," he said. "It takes about three years before you make a dent. Then you start to climb out of the downturn as you develop a core group of returning customers. Then that core group develops and grows."

Bernardone, who has a master's degree in structural engineering and has worked as a general contractor, said that operating a restaurant, especially in a depressed economy, is not an easy enterprise.

"In fact, it's the hardest business ever. We have vendors to deal with and equipment that breaks down. We generally work 65 hours a week," he said. "And there are also a lot of new restaurants coming in which divide up the pie. It's a tough economy, but I feel like we're already coming out of that and business is climbing," he said.

Despite the influx of new eating establishments, Bernardone said his family restaurant fill a special niche and has a steady group of loyal customers.

"We're kind-of a special occasion place," he said. "People come here for birthdays, or to bring visitors from out of town. We have great ambiance and we have homemade, amazing food. Being locals, we get a lot of feedback from our customers and they repeatedly say we give them what they want."

In addition to running the restaurant, the couple are busy raising nine children that they home school in a room located in the restaurant across from the office. The kids take turns helping in the restaurant when not working on schoolwork or studying.

"For us, this is a good way of life," said Bernardone.

Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621. 

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