From Feeding Thousands to Feeding Hearts: Former Caterer Finds Joy Running Community Restaurant in Perry Hall
PERRY HALL - Joe Bivona once fed almost 5,000 midshipmen breakfast, lunch, and dinner during his time operating one of Maryland's largest catering companies. These days, he just wants to make people happy at his Perry Hall restaurant.
Bivona is the owner and operator of Luca Pizza Cafe at 9637 Belair Rd. Despite its calm, small-town atmosphere, the cozy pizza and pasta establishment is far from Bivona's first foray into the world of operating restaurants. The lifelong Baltimore County resident says that he has wanted to make people happy with his food for as long as he can remember.
"I'm a third-generation cook and food lover. My grandfather, my father, my brother, and I were all in the food business," Bivona said. I got my start washing dishes at Martin's Eudowood catering in Towson. From then on, I knew I wanted to be in this industry."
After learning the ropes as a dishwasher, Bivona went on to have a prolific career in the catering and restaurant industry, owning the famous Peerce's Plantation along with several catering companies.
After years of feeding thousands of midshipmen and catering for enormous weddings and corporate events, Bivona decided he needed a break.
"I had roughly 237 employees with the five companies. We sold pierces and just dissolved everything else," Bivona said. I just needed time to recharge; I thought I would retire for good, but I missed the atmosphere. When you see people, there's an energy, and you feed off that energy."
Bivona stayed retired for four years before he decided that life wasn't the same without making people happy with his food. He says he initially applied for jobs at restaurants in the area but was told he was overqualified for every available position. An epiphany struck him after several failed interviews, "I thought, you know what, no one's going to hire me. So I decided to buy something."
He purchased a small restaurant space in Nottingham and has since created a community anchor where residents come to enjoy a diverse menu and chat with Bivona about the goings-on in the Perry Hall area.
His years in the catering and restaurant industry gave Bivona some important insights into how to run a community restaurant. He made several key additions to Luca Pizza Cafe, making it into a full-service restaurant offering dine-in, carry-out, and delivery.
"I just want to create a friendly place. I want to see families with kids enjoying the food and ambiance. It's not it's not fine dining, if you're bringing a family of four to dinner, it has to be affordable. So we're looking to capture that market," Bivona said.
Bivona works hard to accommodate every customer, no matter the request. He believes that "it's not on the menu" is an unacceptable answer to customers requesting specific dishes.
"I mean, it's not hard to make something if you have the ingredients," Bivona said. "I had someone ask if I could make a summer salad with fresh berries. We made the salad, and next thing you know, we put it on the menu as a special, and it was just selling like crazy."
Despite his success at Luca, Bivona says it has been strange to open another restaurant this late into his career.
"It's funny being my age and being the new kid on the block, but I want to make this place into a Perry Hall staple." He said. "I look forward to hosting more community events and really becoming an integral part of this lovely town."