By Jeff Wolfe There have been numerous changes in the last 50 years in Swedesboro and the immediate surrounding area.
Kingsway High School had been open for just one year, built on farmland, and remained the type of place for years where everybody pretty much knew everybody. The surrounding communities such as Woolwich and East Greenwich Townships were largely farm communities, places where it was just as common to see a tractor, or some other agricultural machine on the road, as well as any type of pedestrian vehicle.
It was 50 years ago that Robert and Catherine Botto moved from South Philadelphia to Swedesboro and started making and selling their own Italian sausage at a little market on Kings Highway in downtown Swedesboro, at the current location of Pat’s Pizza. But as the times and surrounding area changed, so did the Botto’s. They purchased the C.W. Brown Foods about 10 minutes north on Kings Highway in Mount Royal in 1965 as a place to make their sausage. That building is undergoing renovations even today to help produce more of the family’s sausage that is now sold in 27 states.
As the population in the surrounding area began to grow, so did the Botto’s business interest. They opened Botto’s Italian Line Market in 1997 and then a full-fledged Italian Restaurant and banquet center opened in 1998. That came at about the same time the population boom began in Woolwich, which went from about 1,400 residents in 1990, to 3,200 residents in 2000 up to more than 10,000 residents in 2010, according to U.S. Census numbers. East Greenwich also went from more than 5,200 residents in 1990 up to more than 9,500 by 2010.
So, yes, while more people moving into the immediate area is always good for any business, Robert Botto Jr. says good food for those people is the most important thing for his business. “Under my mother Catherine and her four sons, the business is still thriving,” Botto Jr. said. “We are serving people the best quality food possible. From our sausage to fresh meats in the deli market to the Italian cuisine in the restaurant, we try to give people the best.”
The other three sons that help with the business are Vincent, Dominic and Henry. Robert Botto Sr. passed away in 2007. Robert Jr. said the sons were given the option of not joining the family business, but that it was such an integral part of who they were, it was hard to imagine not being involved.
“It was part of my life since I was little,” Robert Jr. said. “Stocking shelves, to cutting meat, to waiting on customers in the deli. We did all go from the bottom up. Our parents gave us the opportunity to go elsewhere, but we chose to be in the family business, all of us. ” A big part of that work ethic and business savvy was likely learned, or inherited, from Catherine. According to Robert Botto Jr., his dad always gave credit to Catherine for helping him make good business decisions.
“My father always praised her in his later years that if she didn’t stay by him that he would have blown the money he earned throughout the years and would have ended up with nothing,” Robert Jr. said.
According to Robert Jr., Catherine still does her share of the work.
“Every morning she is there opening up our market and she prepares all of her homemade specialties to be sold in the market,” Robert Jr. said. “And she finishes her day with a dinner in the restaurant as her family and friends enjoy a nice glass of wine, a variety of the food she prepared that day and a nice laugh.” Whether it’s Catherine Botto, or another customer, Robert Botto Jr. says knowing they have satisfied a patron is one of the reasons to be in the business.
“When the customers are happy and when we get people to patronize us and they enjoy patronizing our business with any type of special event here, that’s the most satisfying thing,” Robert Jr. said.
There have been other restaurants to open in Swedesboro for area residents to patronize in recent years, but Botto Jr. doesn’t seem to view that as competition.
“We welcome the other businesses to help our area grow,” Robert Jr. said. “We look forward to the area growing and bringing more people into downtown. We are very confident in what we do and it will make other businesses come to a higher standard also.”
There was a time, about 10 years after the Botto’s expanded their business that they wondered if it might have been a mistake. That’s because the recession hit at its hardest in 2008 and at that time, it was just a matter of survival for many businesses, including a well-established place like Botto’s.
“It was tough,” Robert Jr. said. “We tightened our belt and being old school, we did what we were taught to do.”
That doesn’t mean there still aren’t issues with running a restaurant business today. “The biggest challenge we face today is rising food costs,” Botto Jr. said. “Quality food is top dollar. Food cost is higher than ever, but we handle top quality food. We have to work it into our budget and sometimes we work on tighter margins.”
But for now there is a lot of work to being done by a lot of people. Botto’s employes about 85 people combined part-time and full-time which includes bakers, chefs and foodmakers, one of which is Catherine Botto. While there has been expanded parking in recent years, there is also hopes of expanding to have some type of outdoor seating in the future.
“In terms of the future, we look to expand as our area grows,” Robert Jr. said. “We are looking to have a nice outdoor dining area in the future as our economy gets a little bit better.” Botto’s also has special events throughout the year to help people have a better experience at the restaurant. One of those things is a seafood buffet on Wednesday night. Also, Botto’s has specials for Monday Night Football when the NFL season begins.
“We specialize in every kind of seafood you can think of and on weekends we have entertainment here on Fridays and Saturdays,” Botto Jr. said. “And once football starts, they can come in and sit back and have a nice cocktail and root for their favorite team and feel like they are at home.”
The banquet center also allows Botto’s to host a variety of events, including several fundraisers that take place during the course of the year.
The restaurant’s regular lunch hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. each weekday and noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The dining hours for dinner are from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays and Mondays and from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.
“We welcome all events and we work hand in hand with any type of group,” Botto Jr. said. “They use our facility for good causes all the time. We will donate food to the event and they can bring in people and have a good time.”
Part of that good time is having plenty of food to eat, no matter what you order.
“From day one, we have always given people their money’s worth,” Botto Jr. said. “Our portions are very generous. It’s always been that way and it won’t change.”
What also won’t change, Botto Jr. said, is the family friendly business. “We always try to make Botto’s a place where people want to go,” Botto Jr. said. “We want our customers to be part of our family.”