CARMEL, N.Y. - Like most who open their own business, Carmel's Luigi Rukaj started with a dream.
Since 1980, when he moved from Rome, Italy, to America, Rukaj has wanted to open his own Italian restaurant.
Six months ago, Rukaj and his family took over what is now Luigi's Italian Restaurant on Gleneida Avenue in Carmel.
Response from the community has been positive, with the cozy restaurant filled most nights.
"I should have done it 20 years ago," Rukaj told Daily Voice during a recent visit. "It's been great... It feels like I did the right thing."
The restaurant specializes in popular Italian entrees and seafood, and features wood fired pizza. And the No. 1 requested dessert is Mama's Special. "Mama always made it for us, and we brought it in as kind of a inside joke," Rukaj said. "Now we go through many trays of it every week.. it's become our most popular dessert."
Rukaj gets a lot of help from his family, with grown children Anton, Simon and Antoneta, and wife, Drana, all lending a hand.
"They all help with the cooking," Rukaj said. "It's been amazing... it's great work, and it's about meeting people every day... it goes beyond serving food.
"The reception we've got from the community has been great," he added. "People seem to love it."
Customers agree. "The food was really good, and really fresh," Jessica Magneri, dining with friends, said. "It's our first time here, and it's really nice, and with a nice atmosphere."
"For us, it's been really great," Anton Rukaj said of the family's experience with the restaurant so far. "It's been great for us to be able to help make (my father's) dream come true, it's great to be a helping hand."
Luigi Rukaj summed up his journey like this: "When I came to America, America opened the door for me," he said. "Now I'm opening our door to them - seven days a week. It's such a pleasure to be here and serve the community."
Luigi's Italian Restaurant (formerly known as La Casa Borghetti) is located at 62 Gleneida Avenue in Carmel, and can be reached at 845-225-4000.