As a child, Toula Tarr would help her parents in the kitchen of the family’s restaurant. When it was time to strike out on her own, however, Tarr dropped the apron for a briefcase, working in the home and commercial insurance industry.
A dozen years after Barb and Steve Paras decided to retire and close the operation, Tarr has donned her apron again, this time establishing Astoria Pizza and Pasta as her own operation.
“When my parents were getting ready to retire, they offered it to me to take over, but at the time, it didn’t work out because Dad wasn’t really ready to retire,” said Tarr. “It’s like the saying, ‘there were too many chefs in the kitchen,’ so when I realized he wasn’t ready to let go of everything – even to me, his daughter – I decided to pursue another career.”
But demand for the Paras’s signature recipes and Astoria’s friendly atmosphere persisted. When she’d run into old customers, many noted how much they missed Astoria’s dining experience and wished it could return.
Although she moved into insurance services, Tarr also never forgot how much she enjoyed working in the restaurant.
“As the years went on, I heard from old friends and customers how much they missed it. It seemed like if it were to reopen, it would be successful, and it has been,” Tarr said. “The reception has been overwhelming.”
After a soft opening for special guests on Sept. 1, Astoria Pizza and Pasta went into full operation on Sept. 5, this time at a new location at 1650 Park Avenue. The previous incarnation of the restaurant was at 26th Street and Victoria Avenue. The change in address has only enhanced the public’s interest in the second-generation of the eatery.
“(The success) is due to a combination of several things,” said Tarr, who noted that Astoria is not only home to those who remember the former operation, but is attracting a whole new generation of patrons.
“The restaurant is open seven days a week, but once the restaurant closes, the lounge is still open… which attracts a different type of crowd. They’re louder and want to have more fun. The people on the restaurant side are the same people who want a family atmosphere, but the mood changes once you go into the lounge.”
That aspect of the operation has been upgraded to standards expected from the conventional lounge customer. While restaurant maintains quiet, comfortable and warm tones and décor, the lounge provides a more colourful aesthetic with purple flooring, bright pink booths, green tabletops and a white bar with a feature that allows it to change colors.
The restaurant’s new location is drawing many customers from the Keystone Centre located about a block south. This, alongside the bustling traffic that runs along 18th Street’s commercial sector leads Tarr to say they’re “getting a bit of everything” when it comes to what is attracting people.
Her father – who, with his wife, operated up to three restaurants in the city between the mid-1970s and 2006 – still contributes the sentiments, scents and tastes that made the original restaurant a success. Steve is not in the kitchen frequently, but his spices and recipes – secret combinations he deems a family secret – are still in use.
“And when it gets busy, he helps on weekends making dough and doing little bit of pizza making,” Tarr said. “He’s still dabbling in it a bit.”
Tarr’s version of her family’s operation has added a few items to the menu. Besides the traditional pizza and pasta dishes, she has included soups, salads, appetizers and six new pizza combinations.
“Times change and people want different things, so we’ve got to get a little more creative with the menu,” she said.
Astoria Pizza and Pasta is open until 10 p.m. daily, with the lounge operating until 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.