It’s a family affair at Rastrelli’s in Clinton, Iowa

Family tradition is a hands-on experience at Rastrelli’s, 238 Main Avenue, in Clinton, Iowa.

“When I come to work in the morning, it’s the best thing in the world,” said owner Mike Rastrelli, 67.

On this day, Mike is literally rolling in dough.

“I always think of it as being a conductor,” he said. “The orchestra is playing, and everybody is doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

The second generation restaurateur is making his popular Italian bread.

“I’m amazed at how everything works so well,” he said.

There’s a lot of love in those loaves.

“It’s really just a passion that I have,” he said. “I try to get that over to our staff.”

It’s part of the philosophy instilled by his late parents, Pete and Ida Rastrelli.

Pete came from Tuscany to eventually open a candy store in Clinton back in 1939.

“As a kid in high school, we used to come up here after the games on a Friday night and have a Coke and fries,” recalled customer Lynn McGraw.

Discovering pizza in the mid-1950’s, the Rastrelli family transitioned to serving Italian food and other specialties. They changed out of necessity and succeeded.

“Mom and dad really worked together as a great team,” Mike recalled. “But they were always willing to train and encourage people to continue learning.”

Mementos from the original business remain on display. It’s a tribute to his parents.

“I get to say ‘Good Morning’ to them,” Mike said. “It’s a very special time for me.”

These days, the ample kitchen remains a busy place. Some 60 staffers work here. That’s where they make signature sausage pizza and lots of other tasty treats.

Third generation Michael Rastrelli is an artist with the ravioli.

“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “Just to know the tradition and history that we have here.”

He’s using the same recipes that his family created decades ago. That includes making their own sausage, cutting steaks and hamburger and serving a variety of popular pasta dishes.

“It’s great value,” Michael said. “It’s great food. It’s not just opening up a can and throwing it on somebody’s plate. It’s a labor of love that went into the work that we’re serving to customers.”

Some 74 years later, that family tradition remains a guiding force at Rastrelli’s. It’s a recipe for success that just keeps tasting better.

On this day, the popular banquet room is buzzing with Clinton Rotarians. They’ve been coming here more than 40 years for lunch meetings.

“It’s a great place to eat,” said customer Chuck Swanson. “It’s an easy place to get to.”

Like a well choreographed ballet, friendly servers present more than 100 meals in a matter of minutes.

“You can’t beat it,” added customer Dale Dalton.

Rastrelli’s now offers an upscale room for fine dining. But it’s equally at home with casual settings that reflect Tuscan memories.

“My dad always told me that you would never become a millionaire in this business,” Mike concluded. “But you would live well and enjoy life. He was right on target.”

Sage advice from father to son that’s still resonating at Rastrelli’s.

Rastrelli’s is open from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday. It’s open from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.