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Cameli’s takes its original menu to L5P and beyond

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BY JOLIE JONE

Imagine juicy artichoke hearts, spinach, onions, fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and pesto spread across oven-roasted rosemary focaccia bread.

“My favorite thing [on the menu] is the veggie panini, Mmmmmm!” Linden Taber, Grady alum and employee at Cameli’s, said. “I also love the monster slice, of course, it is epic and delicious.”

Cameli’s is an Atlanta exclusive restaurant that has been around since March 21, 1996, when it opened just before the Olympics hit Atlanta by storm.

After graduating from Kansas University, Nebraska natives George Cameli and his brother, Joe Cameli, were looking for change from the midwest. George had worked in restaurants his whole life, but the Cameli brothers didn’t come to Atlanta in 1995 with the idea of opening their own restaurant.

“Because I didn’t want to get a real job I worked at restaurants,” Cameli joked.

A year later the pair decided to take a leap; armed with Joe’s culinary training from Italy, George’s experience in the restaurant business and a loan from their dad, the duo opened their own pizza place on Ponce de Leon.

Over the years this “hole in the wall” restaurant has become so successful they renovated it six years ago to accommodate more costumers. But Cameli still had bigger dreams for his pizzeria. Various deals fell through, but after getting a good loan, the perfect space opened up and the brothers just opened up a second location in Little Five Points.

“Little Five Points is my neighborhood,” Cameli said. “I wanted to be close to home and I get to serve my neighbors and work with the community.”

Working as a hostess in the Little Five Points location, Taber enjoys every minute she spends in the “relaxed and down to earth” atmosphere of Cameli’s.

Besides having a larger space and a few menu changes, the Cameli’s in Little Five Points has a patio with rooftop seating that Taber says gives customers a “kick ass” view of the city. Taber thinks the new restaurant is doing very well.

“The rooftop patio and bar bring in a lot of people and I think more and more will come in once the weather cools down,” she said.

As far as opening more restaurants in the future, George and his brother have plans for future expansion.

“[Cameli’s] probably won’t be a franchise but we have aspirations to open more with the managers as owners,” Cameli said.

Cameli believes many factors make his pizzeria successful. He never tries to compete with the various pizza places around Atlanta; he just tries to be different.

“I never follow anyone’s lead,” he said. “I try to step it up as far as well-rounded pizza place; [Cameli’s offers] pizza, pasta, wine and beer. I try to grow above and beyond a pizza joint.”

In fact, the last time Cameli even ate another person’s pizza was when his family went skiing in West Virginia.

“It was awful,” Cameli said. “I like our pizza better.”

But Cameli doesn’t mind when his two sons, Alex, a freshman at Grady, and Louis, a seventh grader at Inman Middle School, hang out and order a slice at Fellini’s pizza in Candler Park.

Most would think Cameli’s sons were sick of pizza, but it is actually Alex Cameli’s favorite food. Not just any pizza, however, will do for this pizzeria owner’s son.

“Domino’s is the only [pizza] I really hate,” Alex said. “Last time I ate it I threw up.”

Although Alex enjoys the perks of having a pizzeria in the family, such as access to a free pizza for him and a few friends, he has different career goals. Currently enrolled in the Biomedical Science and Engineering Academy, he hopes to one day become an environmental engineer.

“I’m going to go to school for environmental engineering; finding alternative energy sources and making everyday life more efficient,” Alex said. “[My dad] always says to live in the now. He isn’t thinking about my future [with Cameli’s].”

While Cameli would like for his sons to one day be interested in the business aspect of Cameli’s, he will support his sons no matter what career path they choose.

“I want them to do what they want,” Cameli said. “I’m not sure I knew what I wanted to be [when I was younger]. I ended up doing what I knew how to do.”

Even if Alex never takes over his father’s role in the business, his dad still found a way to get him involved in the new restaurant in Little Five Points.

“I wash and clean dishes,” Alex said. “I carry things up and down the stairs. I carry a lot of things up and down the stairs.”

George Cameli has also felt an increased workload with the new location. He is back to working 70-to-80-hour weeks as he did when the Ponce location first opened.

“It’s a hard life,” Cameli said. “It’s like being a cook—you’ll be working nights and it’s difficult to have a family life. You have to be prepared to work hard.”

All the Cameli brothers’ hard work has payed off, though. Taber said the “diverse but authentic” menu keeps costumers coming back for more.

“It’s hard to say what my favorite part is [about working at Cameli’s],” Taber said. “We have great food, an awesome staff, great management and as I said earlier a down to earth atmosphere. I love it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cameli’s takes its original menu to L5P and beyond