Bernie’s Place, off Highway 71 in Rosalie, has only been open for around six months, but owner Don Berninger said business is booming in his little Italian restaurant.
“I never knew it would take off like this,” Berninger said.
Berninger, who has been involved in the restaurant business for 20 years, said he learned the trade while working as director of operations for Pizza Hut in Winter Haven, Florida, in the 1970s.
“We put up more than 90 Pizza Huts in Florida in one year,” Berninger said.
However, his pizza is more comparable to that of Mellow Mushroom, he said.
“Our pizzas are patted out. They’re not frozen,” Berninger said. “That makes a difference.”
Berninger owned another Bernie’s Place restaurant in Tennessee, but shut it down a few years ago when his health began to decline.
“I’ve lived two years and seven months past when I was supposed to die,” he said, explaining that he suffers from congestive heart failure and only has one working artery. “When that goes, that’s it. But I have no regrets.”
Along with his restaurant, Berninger had to give up something he loves even more than preparing Italian food … football.
“I’ve been a coach since 1972. I’ve been all over and been blessed to win three state championships,” he said. “God, do I miss it.”
But with his health declining, Berninger made the decision to move back to Jackson County, where his four children and 11 grandchildren live. Berninger said during that time he could hardly walk and was very sick, but that has changed over time.
“I don’t know what happened,” he said. “The Lord is keeping me around for some reason … I used to sit around and worry. That’s what made me sick. You can’t live life like that and the more I do, the more I walk around, the more I get involved, the longer I will live.”
And so, Berninger opened his newest Bernie’s Place, partly to help with medical bills, but mostly to help keep him healthy.
“It’s just a fun thing for me to do,” he said.
The menu at Bernie’s is extensive; it has everything from pizza to subs to pasta. But there are a few things you won’t find there.
“Everybody told us that it wouldn’t go, just an Italian restaurant, without hamburgers and fries,” Berninger said. “We proved those people wrong, because you can get hamburgers and fries anyplace… We give people a choice. They get tired of hamburgers and fries.”
Bernie’s Place offers food that can’t be found elsewhere without driving to Huntsville or Chattanooga, Berninger said, and it’s homemade.
“We do all Italian. Subs, wings, chicken alfredo. We make our own sauce, our own salad dressing, our own meatballs and our own lasagna,” he said.
Though Berninger’s favorite is a tossup between the calzone and the salad, he said the customer favorite so far has been chicken alfredo.
“You wouldn’t believe the chicken alfredo that goes out here,” he said.
Bernie’s Place is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. You may reach them at 256-605-4159.