Like father, like son

Southampton resident to open Italian-American restaurant The Iron Oven this spring

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Local flavor: The team behind Southampton’s The Iron Oven is (from left) general manager Ted Ridings, owner Alex Nalbandian and chef Alan. The Italian-American restaurant is slated to open at 1134 Street Road on April 25. Samantha Bambino / Times Photo

A little more than three decades ago, the doors were opened of what would become a staple in the Philadelphia food scene. The eatery was Rising Sun Pizza, which continues to thrive today at its 6919 Rising Sun Ave. location in the Northeast. Growing up, Southampton’s Alex Nalbandian watched in awe as his father Samuel built the business from scratch, serving as his tiny shadow to learn the ins and outs of running a successful restaurant.

After a lifetime of learning from the best and nine years managing Rising Sun himself, Nalbandian is gearing up for an exciting project of his own — The Iron Oven, a casual, Italian-American restaurant slated to open April 25 at 1134 Street Road in Southampton.

Plans began about 10 months ago when Nalbandian partnered with Bristol resident and general manager Ted Ridings, who boasts 30 years experience in the food industry.

“I just enjoy the business,” he said. “I’m passionate about it. You always treat the guests like they’re in your house.”

To give customers the star treatment they deserve, they had to transform the somewhat dark and dingy building into a more welcoming atmosphere. Nalbandian, who lives a mere two minutes away, stumbled upon it one day, seeing the building as a diamond in the rough rather than a lost cause. Ever since, he and his team have been working diligently on renovations to make 1134 Street Road a hub for friends and families, an initiative he and Ridings said the community is backing 100 percent.

“They want to see it succeed because it’s such a great location and a beautiful building,” Ridings said. “It’s a property that should be doing a lot better than it does.”

It’s safe to say the building has had a bit of a rough past. Previously, it was home to Kenny’s, which was rated the №1 dive bar on the East Coast. After almost 20 years in operation, the bar closed and the building was demolished, later rebuilt into the space seen today. According to Ridings, a New York-based food company occupied it for some time, though the owners never immersed themselves in the surrounding community and eventually let the business go under.

This won’t be the case for The Iron Oven.

“Myself and Alex, on our separate paths, we’ve always believed in the community,” Ridings said. “Every concept I’ve worked for, we’re big into the police, we’re big into the towns, the kids and giving back to schools.”

Nalbandian, whose Rising Sun Pizza has a longstanding history of donating to local churches and sponsoring Little League baseball teams, understands firsthand the importance of being a team player, not just another business owner looking to make a quick buck.

“It can’t just be you. If the whole community dies around you, you die,” he said. “When you help out the community, it’s not just to bring in business. It’s to see that other people are happy and to help everyone else. When they’re helped, you’re helped.”

“Without the community, we’re in the unemployment line. We’re closing the doors,” Ridings added. “We need them more than they need us.”

During his years at Rising Sun, Nalbandian established a rapport with local police officers and firemen, and he hopes The Iron Oven can serve as a haven for those of Bucks County. He’s still finalizing details, but hopes to offer a discount one day a week for first responders.

“These people put their lives on the line daily,” Ridings said. “It’s the least we can do.”

Though finishing touches are still being placed on the interior of The Iron Oven, the relaxed atmosphere Nalbandian wants to achieve is already evident. With its outdoor patio, versatile doors and comfortably spacious seating area, the restaurant may just be the new go-to spot for summer nights out with family and friends.

“You’re here to have a good time, not to be serious,” he said.

Of course, a good time has to involve some delicious food, and The Iron Oven will have no shortage of that. Nalbandian plans to offer a larger-than-average menu, with specials varying every two weeks. A staple item will be the stromboli, which he said people drive miles for at Rising Sun, sometimes ordering five at a time.

“It’s something that has kept us in business for 35 years,” he said. “I knew I needed to do something different to be successful. If I’m just like any other restaurant, then what’s the point?”

Nalbandian has faith his strombolis will be a hit with customers at The Iron Oven since “no one does it as good as we do.”

You can’t argue with that.

Other signature menu items will include Iron Oven fries and drinks made from fresh fruit (none of that frozen pureed stuff) and, as Ridings described, “the best tequila you can buy.”

“The menu is really going to open people’s eyes around here,” he said. “We’re going to pride ourselves on our food. Because if your food’s not 110 percent, somebody’s down the street is.” As Nalbandian counts down the days until The Iron Oven opens to the public, he wants people to know it’s not going to be just another restaurant. It’s his baby, something he’ll continue to put his heart and soul into for years to come.

“Any profits I’m making, I’m putting straight back into the restaurant,” he said. “I’m here every single day, and I want to make sure it’s perfect for everyone.” ••

Keep up with The Iron Oven at facebook.com/TheIronOvenRestaurant and ironoven.com.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com