Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 18, 2011

By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY — Leslie and Joseph Cataldo hope their new restaurant, Cooper’s, will quickly become what they’ve already made their signature tagline: The Gathering Place.
“This is kind of an extension of our home, where we like to gather with our friends — the ones we know and the ones we get to know,” Leslie Cataldo says. “Some people collect stamps and coins. We collect friends.”
Cooper’s will open to the public Thursday evening at 122 E. Fisher St. (the former homes of Brick Street Tavern and Las Palmas).
It’s a return to the restaurant life for the couple, who operated the successful Uncle Louie’s in Spencer for five years before selling in 1999.
For the past dozen years, they’ve both worked in sales and catered on the side while they raised their two boys. Now that Anthony, 15, and Dante, 13, are older and ready to work (for free, their father says), the Cataldos looked for a good restaurant opportunity.
“It was time to get back into the business,” Joseph says.
While Uncle Louie’s was a small Italian restaurant with a seating capacity for about 50 diners, Cooper’s will have room for 210.
The size gives the Cataldos a chance to make it the community restaurant they envision. As part of that, they are designating one long table in a corner as the “community charity table,” where diners will pay $3 each for seats.
The money collected goes to charities which are “close and important to us,” Leslie Cataldo says. A new cause will be featured each month. A blackboard over the table gives details for the selected charity.
“We already have reservations for the table, just by word of mouth,” Leslie Cataldo says.
Cooper’s is starting out the rest of this month by raising money in honor of 2-year-old Cooper Wagoner of Salisbury. Proceeds help the Coopie Inc. Team, which is participating in the National Down Syndrome Society’s 2011 Buddy Walk in Charlotte.
And what better name than “Cooper” for the first charity table?
“We just love that little boy,” Leslie Cataldo says. “He just lights up a room when he walks in.”
Food for Thought is the charity already chosen for October; the Yang Foundation, in November.
“Cooper’s” was just a catchy, easy-to-remember name that the Cataldos hit upon for their new restaurant. It also is the monicker for the family’s dog, a stray that came into the Cataldos’ lives in January and has brought them a lot of joy, Leslie says.
Cara Reische, a local artist and friend who has done much of the art and design work for Cooper’s, has incorporated the dog into the restaurant’s logo.
Leslie Cataldo estimates that 100 people stepped forward to help the family get Cooper’s ready to open.
“This was very powerful,” she adds. ‘We have a tremendous amount of support. We never, ever could have done this without our family and friends.”
The Cataldos bought the business Aug. 22 and will be opening Cooper’s exactly a month later.
Leslie’s “right-hand man” has been friend Kimi Matthews, who doesn’t have an official title but will play a key role in helping out the Cataldos. Matthews emphasizes that Cooper’s will be a place where families are encouraged to come and where people can expect to have a good time.
Cooper’s has set aside a corner for children, sponsored by and filled with games from Glenda Dyson’s Just the Thing store in downtown Salisbury.
The Cataldos are thrilled with their location. It’s close to The Norvell, where both of the boys are involved, and about two blocks from their church. The restaurant also is in the heart of an entertainment district with the theaters, bars and other restaurants — all of which tend to help each other, Joseph Cataldo says.
Cooper’s menu will feature solid American food of about 25 items.
Head Chef Scott Staley also will go for the fences each night with a unique special, Joseph Cataldo promises.
All the food will be fresh, made from scratch and using as many locally grown products as possible, he added.
Desserts will be provided by Melissa Heilig and Marcia Miller of Two Red Hens. Leslie Cataldo says the desserts will be chocolate based and only available at Cooper’s.
Local potter Brent Smith will be making unique, personalized beer mugs for customers of Cooper’s. Pay for the mug, and you can keep it at the bar for use every time you come in.
Message boards in the restaurants will keep customers updated on local events.
Cooper’s hopes to offer beer and wine-tasting gatherings, continue with an open-mike night and have some music nights for youth under 18.
Restaurant hours will be from 5-11 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday and 5 p.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday. The restaurant will be closed Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays, except for private parties and special events.
Cooper’s also will be catering.
The closing times listed for the restaurant are when the kitchen closes, Joseph Cataldo says, “but if the crowd wants to stay, that’s fine.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.