August 13, 2011
Putting the '-ell' in Lewisburg (Video)
Douglas Imbrogno
Bella Casa Ristorante is in the Lewisburg building that housed Tavern 1787.
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LEWISBURG, W.Va. -- Pay very close attention if someone invites you to meet them at that recently opened Stella's place near downtown. Or, no, maybe it's Bella.

Or, wait -- maybe it's Bella Casa.

Stella's. Bella. Bella Casa. Which is it?

All three may be right since within the last year three businesses with similar-sounding names have opened in a municipality that was recently voted America's Coolest Small Town by Budget Travel magazine.

Here then is a user's guide to three rhyming establishments -- two restaurants and a gourmet food and gift shop -- whose names may sound alike but whose missions and delicacies are both divergent and particular.

Bella the Corner Gourmet

WHERE: 100 E. Washington St.

PHONE: 304-520-2414

ONLINE: bellathecornergourmet.com

THE NAME: "'Bella' is a play on my maiden name, which was Bell," says owner Tamera Pence. "And the 'a' is a tip of the hat to my dad, whose middle name was Augustus, otherwise known as 'Gus.'"

Bella the Corner Gourmet opened in May 2010 at a prime piece of real estate at the corner of Washington and Jefferson streets. It has quickly become the local go-to place for everything from artisanal cheeses, craft beers and French Press coffeemakers, to high-end picnic baskets, wine glasses and grass-fed beef.

Bella's website keeps a running tally of new products and treats rotating onto shelves and into its refrigerated spaces. ("RECENT NEWS: Urban Accents Dry Glazes, Sable & Rosenfeld Olives, Istar Sheep Cheese & Galli Olive Oils and Balsamics!")

It's been a rather heady return to the area for owner Tamera Pence, who, in her 20s, sold shoes at the nearby Greenbrier resort.

Pence, a Maryland native, had never run a retail shop until she and her husband returned to the region. She had business experience to draw upon, though, having managed an 18-hole golf course and fitness facility in South Carolina, for example, and doing commercial office leasing work.

"I had a girlfriend tap me on the shoulder and say, 'You can do this.' I went and did some research and took everything I'd learned over the past 35 years of business," Spence said.

The corner building came first. "I walked in and said, 'Sir, would you like to sell your building?' And he said, 'Yes.'"

The sunlit space is not large, but a large selection of gourmet food and gifts is packed into it, including a popular bin of artisanal cheese, which can be sampled at the shop's regular cheese and wine tastings.

"Our collection of wines is not deep by any means -- I'm not a sommelier -- but we know enough to make their experience in dining OK," Pence said.

In fact, between the collection of cocktail party gear, gourmet appetizers and regionally grown beef, pork and occasionally chicken, you could outfit a high-end feast -- then pack leftovers and wine into one of Bella's wicker picnic baskets for an outing the next day.

Early on during one crazy day, Pence recalled a moment when she realized how much her life had changed. She glanced at what she dubbed her "good cracker collection," which includes $9 boxes of Canadian Crisps she can hardly keep in stock.

"Things were hysterical, and I'm going, 'What am I doing?' I'm making my living selling crackers and cheese,'" she said, adding, "It's actually pretty fun."

In addition to the family roots of the name, "bella" also means "beautiful" in Italian, which fits the shop's mission, she said. "It just seems appropriate to put beauty in your home, on your table, on your palate and to share with your friends and family."

She quickly learned that another local establishment also had a beauty of a name, when people began calling about the menu at Bella Casa.

"Until the phone companies got the name and the locations straightened out, I was getting a whole lot of their phone calls," said Pence, who just went with the flow. "But it was an opportunity to share who we were. So that's what we did. And then, of course, to send them on to Bella Casa's."

Bella Casa

WHERE: 208 W. Washington St.

PHONE: 304-645-CASA

ONLINE: www.bellacasawv.com

THE NAME: "The Bella Casa name means 'beautiful house' in Italian," says manager Tom Brand.

Bella Casa Ristorante, which opened in February 2011, is the new West Virginia flagship restaurant of Brian and Donna Williams, owners of Pasquales and The Char in Beckley.

Bella Casa combines the menu focus of those two restaurants into one fine dining establishment, says manager Tom Brand.

"Pasquales is pretty much purely Italian, and The Char has been a traditional steak and seafood restaurant. So we took a combination of both to form Bella Casa," he said.

It's fine dining -- "smart casual attire," says the website -- but also not uptight dining, and it all takes place in a historic setting, Brand said.

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