ANGOLA — Now 45 years and counting, Caruso’s has excelled at providing a warm Italian home setting at the dinner table and within its very own kitchen.
“We love to feed people. It feeds our hearts and our souls,” said Liat Caruso-Peters, one of the restaurant’s owners. “We’ve been blessed to be part of so many special times for families. Weddings, showers, family reunions, funerals, anniversary parties. There’s so many reasons people gather, and food is the central part of that.”
The restaurant, a popular destination for locals and lakers at 2435 N. C.R. 200W, started in 1976 when Joe and Barb Caruso bought the building then known as Doc Caccamo’s Pizzeria and turned it into a family legacy, with their children Liat, Lisa Aldrich and Dan Caruso soon joining the staff as teenagers.
When the three kids grew up, they bought the restaurant from their parents and introduced their own children to the family business.
“All of our kids have worked here at one point or another,” said Liat. “It used to be when my parents were still working that we would have three generations of us working.”
For this big Italian family, food has always been a cherished part of their lives. Even before the restaurant began, Liat remembers everyone gathering together to cook, even for instances such as camping trips where cooking is not always an easy feat.
“It’s a big Italian family, so food was always our focus,” Liat said. “We would form a circle with our campers, and Mom and my aunts would plan out the meals for the weekend. We would have spaghetti and meatballs while camping. We would have all these wonderful meals all weekend. Food has always been our course of happiness.”
The family’s passion for food shows through its menu, which is full of traditional staples and personalized plates that have become fan favorites. What makes the food even more special is that much of it is made on-site, such as the dough, various dressings and Alfredo sauce, and the restaurant goes to great lengths to use fresh ingredients, such as seafood and locally-made sausage.
“It’s fresh,” Liat said. “It’s not food that has already been prepared that’s being reheated. So it has that extra freshness and uniqueness to it.”
Despite the Italian focus, seafood is one of the restaurant’s most used ingredients for popular dishes like the salmon specials and glazed salmon and pear salad.
Although the menu offers a variety of meals, Liat emphasized that no Italian restaurant is complete without a good spaghetti and meatballs, one of her personal favorites.
“Definitely the spaghetti and meatballs,” she said. “It’s like I have to have that once a week to get my fix.”
Don’t just take the owner’s word for it, though. Caruso’s has proven it’s tasty merit by taking first place in this year’s Fort Wayne Readers’ Choice Awards for Best Lake Area Restaurant.
The winner is decided through public voting, showing just how much the community values the restaurant’s food and hospitality.
Many families consider dinner at Caruso’s a vacation tradition or must-have stop when they return to the area and make it a point to show that appreciation to the Carusos and their staff.
“We have customers who have been coming here since our parents bought it, and they will call us out to the table and say, ‘Hey, thanks for still being here,’” Liat said. “Those are the things that stick with you and make you feel rewarded.”
Caruso’s does a fine job of making its customers feel like family, but that sentiment extends to its staff as well.
The restaurant currently has about 50 employees, a number that Liat would like to see grow in order to open opportunities for lunch hours and increased catering, but they all work together in an environment that promotes a sense of camaraderie and family that includes everyone, not just the Carusos.
“We have a great staff,” Liat said. “We try to promote a family atmosphere amongst our help. We encourage them to take their breaks and eat together.”
“I think a lot of people have sent us their kids for their first job because of the family atmosphere,” she added. “There are several families that aren’t owners who have three generations who have worked here. We’re proud of that.”
With warm food and an even warmer reception from the community, it’s no wonder that Caruso’s has had such a rich and successful legacy that will continue to leave its mark on northeast Indiana for years to come.