In the mood for some Italian food but don’t feel like making the trek overseas? Let Eli Golemi and the staff of Café Bella ease those hunger pangs with their authentic Mediterranean cuisine.

Golemi, co-owner and manager of the traditional Italian restaurant, located in the 109, certainly knows her way around the kitchen. Originally of Greek descent, Golemi was born and raised in Albania. She learned the art of cooking at a very early age through lessons from both her mother and aunt.

“My family is famous over there for our cooking,” she said. “I just love [cooking]. It’s never boring for me.”

Golemi’s recipe book is filled with secret spices and sauces that have been passed down from generation to generation. Her personal cooking style has been influenced by her travels through Europe, including visits to Greece, England, Germany and Italy.

Golemi takes great pride in preparing fresh ingredients to serve to her customers.

“I like the healthy and fresh food,” she said. “We make pasta in the restaurant every day and cook bread every day.”

Golemi, her husband and their daughter moved from Albania to the United States in June 1999.

“My daughter was the reason we came here,” she said. “We wanted her to get a good education and have more opportunities. I did this all for my children. I want them to be successful.”

Prior to this move, they had never visited the U.S. and neither she nor her husband spoke English. Soon after arriving in the 109, Golemi was hired as a waitress at Café Bella and learned English through her interaction with customers.

Eleven years later, Golemi is now co-owner of the Italian restaurant and has turned her lifelong passion for cooking into a career.

“It was my dream to open a business,” she said. “I love taking care of people. I want everyone to be happy and feel welcome.”

Ambitious Golemi has big plans for Café Bella. She wants to redesign the restaurant to have a more cohesive and “homey” decor. Some of these changes include painting the interior walls, landscaping the outside and adding special lighting on the patio to create a romantic ambience.

Managing a restaurant is no easy feat, but Golemi is up for the challenge. She is usually at work about 12 hours a day, and still manages to find ample time to spend with daughter Nikoleta and son Arti.

“I keep my family very near,” she said. “I like us to be together all the time.”

To promote this closeness and keep with Albanian tradition, Golemi frequently cooks large meals for her family. She enjoys preparing chicken and potatoes with secret spices – her son’s favorite meal – and shendetli, a cake-like Albanian dessert made with butter, oil, honey, brown sugar, syrup and walnuts.

Popular Café Bella dishes are grilled tilapia Florentine, grilled salmon picatta and vegetable lasagna, all of which are served with a salad and fresh bread, Golemi said.

Head Chef Juan Delatorre has been at Café Bella for five years and has enjoyed working with Golemi.

“She is a good boss and an excellent person,” Delatorre said. “In the coming years, I think she will bring us even more success.”

Café Bella is located at 3548 South Hills Ave., and is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Saturday, 3 p.m. – 10 p.m. and is closed on Sunday.