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Taste of right here at home

New restaurant to reintroduce North Liberty residents to Italian favorites
Gregg and Terri Mirabito opened a new Italian resturant at 40 Sugar Creek Lane (in the former Subway location) in November. (photo by Jen Moore)

NORTH LIBERTY- For Gregg Mirabito, family and food go hand-in-hand.
During the holidays, the Mirabito clan often gathers together for what he called “an Italian Christmas,” where the kitchen is filled traditional Italian favorites, like spaghetti and savory meatballs or daughter Lindsey’s, favorite; shrimp scampi with linguine.
“I tried to change it one year to something like prime rib,” Greg recalled. “It was not well-received.”
Now, Gregg has brought that home cooked goodness to North Liberty with his new restaurant, “Mirabito’s,” located at 40 Sugar Creek Lane.
And he brought the whole family with him. Gregg’s wife Terri works the front of the establishment, while his four children– Lindsey, Anthony, Nick, and Olivia– help out with everything from cooking to greeting guests. Lindsey also assists with marketing for the restaurant.
“It gives the family a lot of time together,” Terri said. “We’re all working together, so that’s been fun to me to have the kids and Gregg always around.”
“For Mirabito’s we wanted to make a restaurant that me and my family would enjoy being at; the kind of place we would want to go out to eat,” Gregg said.
So, he modeled the restaurant’s atmosphere after the experiences he enjoyed in his family’s kitchen as a child, and the place he considered the “hub of the household.” Food was how the family expressed love and cooking was a way to spend time together.
Gregg grew up the son of an Italian immigrant father and Irish immigrant mother. Though she was Irish, Gregg’s mother taught him how to cook great Italian food.
“She was the one who would do all of the cooking during the week,” Gregg said. “She was the one with all of the great recipes.”
He would often watch his mother in kitchen, while also watching TV cooking greats Julia Child and “Galloping Gourmet” star Graham Kerr. He developed what he calls a “zen-like” feeling of enjoyment from cooking that never seemed to go away.
Attending culinary school was supposed to be the next step for the aspiring chef, but things didn’t go quite as planned. Instead, he began studying English at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kan. But it wasn’t long before a hunger to return to the kitchen got the better of him.
Gregg began working part time as a chef for a local family-owned restaurant, Tin Pan Alley. While there, he was able to hone his craft even further.
“During my time there, I kind realized they were what I wanted to model my restaurant after,” Gregg said.
After the couple completed college, he and Terri opened up their first Italian restaurant in downtown Lawrence that specialized in lunchtime fare for busy students and faculty. But Gregg admits that at 25 years old, he and Terri weren’t quite ready for the pressures of owning a business.
Gregg began working for the Marriot, where he gained more practical knowledge both in business and food preparation, eventually becoming an executive chef with the hotel company. It was his work there that brought him to Eastern Iowa in 2006, where he was part of the team who helped open the Coralville Marriot.
Yet the dream of owning his own restaurant never went away for Gregg, and this past year, with the support of Terri, the vision of Mirabito’s began to come to life.
“I knew it was something my husband had always wanted to do, so we all wanted to help him,” Terri said.
This time, he wanted to open a restaurant based on the comforting nature of good food. Gregg is adamant that quality food doesn’t have to be pretentious, but should be soothing, and the environment in which it is served should be just as inviting.
Mirabito’s is certainly all of these things. The restaurant is small and intimate with exposed brick covering one wall, and large, bright windows along the other two. There is almost no space separating the kitchen from the dining area, which enhances the restaurant’s cozy, intimate atmosphere.
And though Gregg can often be found in the kitchen, one of his favorite parts about the restaurant industry is meeting and talking with guests.
“I really enjoy schmoozing with the customers,” he said. “Just going out there and welcoming them to our restaurant. I want everyone to have a fun time and enjoy themselves.”
Most of the restaurant’s dishes are based off his mother’s recipes, though Gregg adds his own touches as well.
“I’ve tweaked things here and there, but so far the reception has been very positive,” Gregg said. “There isn’t really anything in North Liberty like it.”
Mirabito’s is open Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mirabito’s is closed on Sundays.