By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Laura Duprez grew up with an Italian mother who loved to cook and loved to open her home to people. When Laura and husband, Mitch Duprez, decided to open an Italian restaurant in Norman three years ago, that “our house is your house” culture contributed greatly to the casual, homestyle approach of their restaurant.
Now, Gaberino’s Homestyle Italian, 283 34th Ave. SW in Redbud Plaza, has expanded to be even more welcoming to more people, but don’t worry, Duprez said the same cozy atmosphere continues to make guests welcome.
“I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from people,” Duprez said. “We had 1,280 square feet and we added 1,400 square feet and doubled the seating.”
Cozy banquettes and two small semi-private rooms will keep the dining experience intimate. The semi-private rooms are partially enclosed booths with stained glass windows and seating for six to eight people. A larger room can accommodate parties and groups, something the restaurant couldn’t do before the renovation.
Local artist Patience Rhode did stained glass accents. A wine bar was added, and the Duprezs worked with Matt Sterr of Spirit Shop to expand the wine list and beer offerings.
“Everything is Italian,” Duprez said.
Duprez’s maternal ancestors came from northern Italy. Gaberino is Laura’s mother’s maiden name. Laura Duprez grew up in an Italian community in McAlester but fell in love with Norman when she attended the University of Oklahoma.
She took a job in Washington, D.C., for a time but missed Norman and returned. Laura met husband and co-owner, Mitch Duprez, while both were working at Victoria’s Restaurant on Campus Corner.
For a time, Laura considered going into medicine and Mitch was interesting in teaching. Meanwhile, he cooked and she waited tables. The couple decided to follow their hearts and open a restaurant.
“I think the food is good,” she said. “It’s made from scratch. The other aspect is the ambiance — it’s unpretentious and welcoming.”
The result has been a resounding success. Last year, Gaberino’s took second place in the Transcript’s Reader’s Choice awards. When the space came open next door, they jumped on the chance to expand, even though the restaurant has not quite hit it’s three-year anniversary mark, a time when many restaurants are still hoping to break into the black.
Laura Duprez believes the homey atmosphere and homemade fare for affordable prices are responsible. She also attributes much of the restaurant’s success to customer service.
“We have a wonderful staff,” she said. “They take care of customers.”
The food is simple, but simple can be delicious she said.
“The hand-rolled meatballs are an old family recipe,” Duprez said.
The walnut encrusted chicken parmesan is also very popular, as is the lasagna.
“All of our pastas are hand-made and fresh,” she said. “We make our Italian cream cake, which is very popular.”
Where possible, Duprez said they patronize other Norman businesses, getting bread and tiramisu from La Baguette and gelato from il Dolce.
In addition to traditional offerings, some menu selections are vegetarian, vegan and/or gluten free.
For those who don’t drink wine or beer, an Italian soda or the recently added Topeca coffee served French press style is worth a try.
Duprez said a special summer menu offers broader choices and a lighter fare including baked salmon, eggplant parmesan and caprese salad skewers.