(Published in print edition June 28, 2023)
Jimmy Werfelman remembers cooking in the kitchen of his best friend’s grandmother in Sicily, Italy.
This was when Werfelman and Lance Cpl. Carl Zeppepo were Marines stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in southern California, and the pair would take off on leave, sometimes traveling the world.
When they made it to Sicily, he volunteered to cook with Zeppepo’s grandmother because he has always loved preparing food and he wanted to learn from her.
He remembers a big pot full of sauce in her kitchen, and he and Zeppepo’s grandmother throwing in tomatoes and garlic and stirring. And when Werfelman made a mistake, she gave him a smack on the back of the head.
“That’s not the right way,” she told Werfelman in heavily accented English.
The recipes he learned from his best friend’s grandmother inspired Werfelman’s current restaurant, Tavola dei Nonna, which translated from Italian is “Grandma’s Table.”
The restaurant opened Jan. 1 in the Ramada Inn on the U.S. 41 Strip. But it closed at that location on May 20 because of a disagreement, currently a lawsuit, over the conditions of the lease. Werfelman did not reveal details of the disagreement.
The restaurant will reopen at the Wolf’s Tavern building. A soft opening is scheduled for July 1, and a grand opening is set for July 10, Werfelman said. At a mid-June interview with the Hendersonian, workers were in and out the building in preparation for the re-opening.
He had hoped to open on Father’s Day, but hold-ups with the delivery of the ANSUL system, a kitchen fire suppression system, has delayed the opening.
Werfelman said he’s excited to be in downtown Henderson because though the restaurant was open for more than four months on the Strip, many people told him they hadn’t seen it. He believes that many of the motorists on the Strip are too focused on crossing the bridge to want to stop.
On the other hand, people go downtown because they want to be there. There’s also not an authentic Italian restaurant downtown, Werfleman said. These are two reasons he believes business will be good on the corner of Green and First streets.
Werfelman will keep much of the aesthetics of the old Wolf’s Tavern. The booths will line the wall in the bar, and much of the tavern’s painted wall will remain the same. He said he wants to add something along the lines of “Tavola dei Nonna at Wolf’s Tavern” on the wall.
He’s hired an artist to paint Italian scenes inside the building, much like he had at the location on U.S. 41. There are also family photos lining all the walls. Werfelman said it’s a family-run business—seven of his children and five grandchildren will pitch in.
Werfelman, a graduate of the San Francisco Culinary Institute, said he’s been in the food-serving industry in some form for the past 30 years.
Tavola dei Nonna will be open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. On Sundays, the restaurant will serve a lunch buffet from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
The restaurant is currently serving food at a booth at Ellis Park, where they also provide the buffet in the Sky Box Theatre on Thursday and Sunday.
Werfelman spent six years in the Marines. Veterans and active soldiers are dear to him. Because of his friendship with Zeppepo and many other veterans who’ve passed, he dedicates a Fallen Soldier Table. The table includes the Bible verse, John 15:13; a folded chair to symbolize that the soldier will never sit at the table again; lemon for the bitter loss; salt to dry tears; and a candle that remains lit all day.
“It is very much in dedication to our brothers and sisters who never made it back,” Werfelman said. “I do it year-round.”