Bella’s restaurant ‘here to stay’ at Mill Road location
Published: Monday, October 8, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02
Restaurants have come and gone in the past year in the Mill Road shopping plaza, but Bella’s seems to be here to stay.
The newly opened restaurant features a casual dining experience and a fairly priced menu that many Durham residents and students enjoy.
Owner Jeanie Oulette said she couldn’t be happier that her restaurant is finally up and running.
“I began working in the restaurant business when I was 17,” she said. “I started off as a hostess at a restaurant and just worked my way up to a waitress, bartender and even a cook.”
Oulette received no schooling in business or culinary arts; everything she has learned is simply from working in the restaurant industry for so long. This is one of the reasons she believes Bella’s will be successful.
“Not only did I work as a waitress, bartender and a cook at restaurants earlier in my life, but I was also sort of like an unofficial manager for 14 years at a restaurant back in Manchester,” she said. “Because of this, running a restaurant is not really new to me.”
Oulette said she got the idea to start her own restaurant from her husband.
“After working at restaurants for so long, one day my husband suggested that I stop working for other people and just open my own place,” she said. “So, I did.”
Oulette began looking at spaces to put her restaurant. She first looked in towns such as Hampton and Portsmouth, but chose the Mill Road shopping plaza because it was close to home. Despite opening in a college town, the restaurant hasn’t experienced much trouble except for a “dine and ditch” incident and some rowdiness from college students on the weekends, Oulette said.
After purchasing the space, Oulette had to come up with a name for her restaurant.
“Bella is a nickname one of my best friends gave me when we were younger,” Oulette said. “I don’t even remember where it came from, but she has always called me Bella.”
The next step was to hire her staff.
“All the equipment and furniture came with the space from B.J. Bricker’s so we didn’t have to worry about any of that,” she said.
Oulette hired a few UNH students to serve as waiters and waitresses and kept the cook from B.J. Bricker’s, the restaurant that formally occupied the space.
“We had a little trouble at first with reliability within our staff,” Oulette said. “But things have shaped up and we don’t really worry much about that now.”
With a full staff and furnished restaurant, all that was left was the menu.
“We decided to make Bella’s not a restaurant with a specific type of food, that’s why we consider it casual dining,” she said.
Kathleen Hodge, a UNH student, said she loves the food at Bella’s.
“I went there with my parents for dinner and the food was delicious. There was lots to choose from,” she said.
Bella’s menu features a variety of choices such as cheeseburgers, pasta, sandwiches, soups, seafood and much more. But Oulette said she is open to new suggestions regarding her menu.
One suggestion a customer made was that one of the dishes should be less spicy. Hearing this, Oulette asked the cook to refrain from adding the crushed pepper into the dish from now on.
“I once had a frequent customer write me a five-page letter about suggestions she had for Bella’s,” Oulette said. “I appreciated this and not only took some of her suggestions, but wrote her a thank-you card as well.”
Oulette also said that unlike so many others, the economy didn’t scare her from opening her own business.
“I wasn’t afraid of opening Bella’s because of the economy; the only thing that made me scared was the actual opening and starting the business.”
Oulette said that won’t stop her from possibly opening another location in the area in the next few years.
Jenna Kucinskas, also a UNH student, said she would like to see another Bella’s opened.
“I’ve been to Bella’s a few times and the food is good. It’s nice to see that a restaurant can open in this economy and still do well,” she said. “I’d like to see another one open up somewhere else.”
Oulette said she signed a three-year lease with this shopping plaza. “We would like to keep Bella’s after the lease is up as long as we are able to do so and the restaurant is doing well,” she said. “I also hope that within six years or so I will have a second Bella’s opened. The restaurant business is all I’ve known and something I truly love.”