The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

Local Scene

May 30, 2013

Lovin' from the oven: Couple brings brick-oven pizza and wine bar to Palestine

PALESTINE — Owners Carmen and Regina Santone don’t want the “Italian” label for its new restaurant — Switch, Palestine’s first brick oven artisan pizza and wine bar restaurant in Palestine.

“We see it as a neighborhood place that you can go once or twice a week for lunch or dinner with great atmosphere and conversations while keeping the cost under $20,” Carmen said during an interview with the Herald-Press.

The 3,650 square feet restaurant, which has patio seating, opened March 29 and will host a Palestine Area Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

“We stewed over the name for quite a while. Originally it was going to be Bella Calina — meaning beautiful hills, but we didn’t want an Italian label. But eventually we decided on ‘Switch’ for a number of factors — mainly because of Palestine’s railroad history, as well as giving us the option of ‘switching’ our theme or ‘switching’ our menu up some,” Carmen said. “We wanted a playful marketing approach.”

Switch’s menu includes brick-fired pizza, ranging from shrimp pizza to The Oink (Italian cured meats, pork sausage, house-made mozzarella and san marzano tomato), as well as sandwiches including the Real Deal Philly, Hot Roast Beef (served with au jus and horseradish aioli) and the Porchetta (slow roasted pork butt, deglazed with beer, greens, pepperoncini and topped with three cheese blend).

While some of the menu items come from Carmen’s Italian heritage, his time spent in Philadelphia for many years before moving to East Texas led to his sandwich choices on the menu.

Other items include craft beers and pasta dishes and an ever-growing wine list. The desserts are not made in-house, but come in great demand from the Cheesecake Factory.

“We make our own mozzarella. We are all about the freshness and the quality of the ingredients and the simplicity,” Carmen said.

Carmen moved to Crockett from Philadelphia in the mid-2000s, where at the time he was working as a court reporter. When he moved to Crockett, he was working as a director of sales for a software and hardware service company. It was in Crockett he met his wife, Regina, who was working for Direct Medical. They married in September 2007.

“We looked at several properties all over East Texas and considered at one time Lake Nacogdoches and Lake Travis. We looked in the downtown area for a while, then decided to go a different direction,” Carmen said about their hunt for a restaurant location. “The second go-around in Palestine, we found a house on Range Road that we fell in love with and this property, the perfect location, became open.”

Switch is located at 1615 S. Royall St. behind Lowe’s just off Loop 256. For many years, the building housed a Jehoviah Witness denomination.

“When we bought it, the building didn’t have any windows or doors. It took about 18 months of renovations,” Carmen said.

Carmen credits his wife, Regina, for bringing the aesthetics of the restaurant to life, including importing historic pieces like its sliding front door from Italy, shutters from the south of France (put on a barn trolley to adjust seating) and an old European work bench that is being used as a bar.

Another conversational piece is a large wooden table in the reservation-only wine room.

“When we saw the table we had to have it,” Carmen said. “The wine room is the only reservation-only based room. We’ve had some businesses lunches in there and have it booked practically every Friday and Saturday night. It can host up to 12 people from everything from a Bible study to a Texas Hold ‘Em game.”

Carmen, who comes from a family full of restaurant entrepreneurs, decided a few years he wanted to tip his hat into the restaurant business, but wasn’t sure what direction to go in.

A friend in Philadelphia gave  him the brick oven artisan pizza idea and the Santones went full speed ahead with the idea.

The couple lucked out on a auction for a Wood Stone pizza oven, buying 90 percent of the items for sale in the auction.

“We almost called the restaurant ‘Lot 106,’” Carmen joked.

The couple credits brother-in-law Scott Giordano from coming down from Philadelphia to get the restaurant ready to open and for the experience of one of its cooks, Brian D. Price, who at one time served more than 200 “death row meals” on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Walls Unit and also served as a past restaurant owner.

“I didn’t have experience, but I had an Italian mother, a love to cook at home and to learn more about it,” Carmen said. “It took trial and error to learn how to turn it out in volume. My meatballs, for example, have 49 years of experience in them.”

Switch is open for lunch and dinner six days a week from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. on Fridays and from 2 to 11:30 p.m. on Saturdays. The restaurant is closed on Sundays.

“We already have true regulars. We really have gotten a good response from the community,” Carmen said. “We do things different here, different music and a different atmosphere, not what you are used to in  Palestine. People are encouraged to linger, relax and let the conversation unfold.”

The restaurant has about 25 employees.

“We are really proud of the team we have here now,” Carmen said.

For more information about Switch, call the restaurant at 903-729-7700.

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