The enriching experience of food and family at Gamba Ristorante

"We love what we do; we’re here every day, we fight the war."

Photo Credit: Brad M. Wolf

The enriching experience of food and family at Gamba Ristorante

Written by: Julia Perla Huisman
January 31, 2019


Driving down Broadway in Merrillville, you wouldn’t expect that one of Northwest Indiana’s most renowned restaurants is tucked away out of view. But turn down 84thDrive and soon enough, you’ll come upon an impressive structure, an exquisite dome-shaped building whose very presence invites you to come inside.

Gamba Ristorante is the brain child of Benito Gamba, his wife Hilda, and his three daughters. The Gamba family are veterans in the local restaurant business. Owners of the former Venezia restaurants in Valparaiso, in 2006 the Gamba family relocated their efforts to Merrillville and opened Gamba . Specializing in fresh Italian cuisine, a 200+ wine list, and a staff so devoted it’s almost unheard of anymore, Gamba has established itself as one of the highest-quality culinary spots in the area.

We spoke with Benito about Gamba’s vast appeal, its long run with success, and what keeps people coming back.

What would you say is your specialty?

We specialize in fresh pastas, risotto, and quality ingredients. We are considered an upscale restaurant so we want to make sure we showcase what we do. Our ingredients are always fresh. Back in the day we used to have to go to market to get our own produce or seafood. Now there is more of a demand for specialty, so the vendors come to us. Our kitchen does a wonderful job in resourcing what makes sense economically and also what’s in season.

Photo Credit: Brad M. Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad M. Wolf

Driving down Broadway in Merrillville, you wouldn’t expect that one of Northwest Indiana’s most renowned restaurants is tucked away out of view. But turn down 84thDrive and soon enough, you’ll come upon an impressive structure, an exquisite dome-shaped building whose very presence invites you to come inside.

Gamba Ristorante is the brain child of Benito Gamba, his wife Hilda, and his three daughters. The Gamba family are veterans in the local restaurant business. Owners of the former Venezia restaurants in Valparaiso, in 2006 the Gamba family relocated their efforts to Merrillville and opened Gamba . Specializing in fresh Italian cuisine, a 200+ wine list, and a staff so devoted it’s almost unheard of anymore, Gamba has established itself as one of the highest-quality culinary spots in the area.

We spoke with Benito about Gamba’s vast appeal, its long run with success, and what keeps people coming back.

What would you say is your specialty?

We specialize in fresh pastas, risotto, and quality ingredients. We are considered an upscale restaurant so we want to make sure we showcase what we do. Our ingredients are always fresh. Back in the day we used to have to go to market to get our own produce or seafood. Now there is more of a demand for specialty, so the vendors come to us. Our kitchen does a wonderful job in resourcing what makes sense economically and also what’s in season.

Then of course the most important thing is service. Great service can overcome mediocre food, but lousy service will destroy great food. The most important thing in our business is that when people come in, they’ll see me, my wife, Michaelle [Benito’s daughter and head of marketing]. That’s what’s missing in any business, is the personal attention. We have 32 people on staff, some of whom have been with us for 30 years, and each one has a different role to make sure that we execute well.

Photo Credit: Provided by Gamba Ristorante
Gamba is a multi-generational family affair, run and operated by all members of the Gamba family: [from left] Angela, Krystle, Hilda, Benito, Cynthia, and Michaelle.
Photo Credit: Brad M. Wolf
The Gamberoni Alla Griglia dish is made of U-4 tiger prawns and taggiasca.
Photo Credit: Provided by Gamba Ristorante
Gamba is a multi-generational family affair, run and operated by all members of the Gamba family: [from left] Angela, Krystle, Hilda, Benito, Cynthia, and Michaelle.
Photo Credit: Brad M. Wolf
The Gamberoni Alla Griglia dish is made of U-4 tiger prawns and taggiasca.

What is your favorite dish on the menu and why?

It all depends on the day. That’s one good thing about an Italian menu. With Italian, I can have seafood one day, pasta the next, I can have veal, so many things. It also depends on the season. Right now in January I might have Osso buco or things that are more braised, a little more rich. When you get into the spring, your taste buds change.

We have people when they come in, their first thing is to have the bean soup, pasta e fagioli. It’s the one thing on our menu that no one can duplicate, that’s how good it is.

Photo Credit: Brad M. Wolf
Bistecca Di Manzo: prime New York strip steak with braised leeks and carrots and cognac-mustard demi glaze
Photo Credit: Brad M. Wolf
Tonarelli Al’Tonne E Melenzane: linguini, Sicilian tuna, capers, eggplant, and bread crumbs

How do you stay competitive, price-wise, with other restaurants?

We try to be smart in what we do with pricing. It can be difficult. We understand that the economy is getting better but people ask themselves, why should I go out to spend $200-$250 for a dinner for two? That’s why we have to be very careful. We cannot compromise with quality. This is one thing we will never jeopardize. Because if you go in a place and you spend quite a bit of money, as long as you’re satisfied you say it was worth it.

Our lunch menu is very economical and you can sit in a place where you can relax for an hour. Eating is like investing in yourself. If you’re eating well, chances are that when you’re age 50 to 60 you’re healthy. That’s why we always put an emphasis on what we do with our food.

Why do you think Gamba has remained successful over the years?

Our core of steady customers. They are the ones that are supporting us. And it’s because of what they get in return: good food, good service, the recognition that we will take care of them in every possible way. We keep our menu fresh; we change it three or four times a year. We are not a trendy place because places that are trendy appear today and six months from now, they’re done. Getting people to come in can be a challenge, but I know that when they do come in, we do a pretty good job of making sure they’re coming back.

We love what we do; we’re here every day, we fight the war. We don’t just plan it and then someone else executes it. We plan and then we’re here and that means a lot.

Photo Credit: Brad M. Wolf
Gamba features more than 200 wines on their wine list, ranging from the economically priced everyday wine to high-end specialties.
Photo Credit: Brad M. Wolf
Gamba features more than 200 wines on their wine list, ranging from the economically priced everyday wine to high-end specialties.

How do you stay competitive, price-wise, with other restaurants?

We try to be smart in what we do with pricing. It can be difficult. We understand that the economy is getting better but people ask themselves, why should I go out to spend $200-$250 for a dinner for two? That’s why we have to be very careful. We cannot compromise with quality. This is one thing we will never jeopardize. Because if you go in a place and you spend quite a bit of money, as long as you’re satisfied you say it was worth it.

Our lunch menu is very economical and you can sit in a place where you can relax for an hour. Eating is like investing in yourself. If you’re eating well, chances are that when you’re age 50 to 60 you’re healthy. That’s why we always put an emphasis on what we do with our food.

Why do you think Gamba has remained successful over the years?

Our core of steady customers. They are the ones that are supporting us. And it’s because of what they get in return: good food, good service, the recognition that we will take care of them in every possible way. We keep our menu fresh; we change it three or four times a year. We are not a trendy place because places that are trendy appear today and six months from now, they’re done. Getting people to come in can be a challenge, but I know that when they do come in, we do a pretty good job of making sure they’re coming back.

We love what we do; we’re here every day, we fight the war. We don’t just plan it and then someone else executes it. We plan and then we’re here and that means a lot.

Photo Credit: Brad M. Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad M. Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad M. Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad M. Wolf

BENITO’S WORDS OF WISDOM FOR BUSINESS OWNERS

“It’s easy to get to the point of success, but how you stabilize or maintain your reputation from there, that’s what’s difficult.”

“What is good service? It’s when the customer has everything they need on the table without noticing that somebody is there providing it for them. It’s not good service when you’re on top of them and you disturb them every minute or you do things that are unnecessary.”

“When the customer walks in, regardless of what kind of day we have, we make sure it doesn’t show. We are actors—actors in a way that you have to feel it. When an actor is given a part, you have to get into the part because if you don’t, you can tell. Same with us. We act but in a manner where we get involved.”

“Stay simple. Things that are simple, if you don’t execute it right, they become complicated. That’s what’s going on today with all the food-winning trends. Execute simplicity because that will take you far.”