Last week Melody Spurney, director of the Newton Convention and Tourism Bureau, had some good news when she spoke with the Newton City Commission — two of Newton's better eateries made the top 20 of a state list.
That list was published by Kansas Magazine. Genova and Back Alley Pizza both made the reader's choice list.
The magazine, published by the Kansas Department of Travel and Tourism, hosted an online contest for nominations last year. Anyone could nominate any local restaurant. The restaurants with the most nominations qualified for an online voting contest. There were 53 of those. When the top 20 were found, two of them came from Newton.
Rosie Martin ducked out of the meeting early — she had to work. That's typical. One moment she busses tables, another she races to the kitchen for an order, stops at the register for a check — all before greeting another customer with a smile.
Martin is general manager at Genova Italian Restaurant, 1021 N. Washington Rd.
On Dec. 12, 2014, Genova opened. Since then, Martin has been getting on a first-name basis with folks in Newton.
"We moved to Newton not knowing anything," Martin said. "We just came to a town. It was random. Little did I know I would make a home so far from home."
Born and raised in Spain to a Spanish mother and an Italian father, Martin moved to the U.S. at age 17 in 1989. She moved to Newton from Iowa after working in a restaurant there.
Stromboli, tortellini ala panna, lobster ravioli and Genova’s Special grace the menu in a fusion of recipes from relatives and past restaurants, as well as Martin and cook Jose Martinez’s twists.
It is one of Newton's top eateries — consistently at or near the top of Reader's Choice awards by The Newton Kansan each year. The restaurant has been so successful, it has had to expand out of its original space and took part of a neighboring space in the shopping center.
"I just think this. If I die tonight, I did it right," Martin said. "Everyone treated me like part of the family. ... I have a family and I am very happy about it. I don't have a problem working 14 or 16 hours a day, whatever it takes."
Robert Palmer has been busy with his restaurant venture as well, one that started as a side note.
"We are humbled and the community is a huge part of this," Palmer said. "This (award) was not something we initiated it was the community."
Palmer first founded "Norm's," a coffee shop that when it opened was a non-profit organization. It was an instant hit on West Sixth.
In 2015, Palmer started experimenting with pizza — renting a trailer and making brick oven pizza on the street and in the alley behind Norm's.
Palmer and his wife, Cheryl, leased a mobile brick oven because they wanted to experiment with artisan pizzas as a part-time summer job. They did it as a family with their sons and served up slices at seven to eight events.
That eventually grew into a business of its own. Norm's has been sold and moved to a new location on Main Street, and Back Alley Pizza is churning out pies full time.
"Newton has overwhelmed us with support and generosity," Robert Palmer said. "We want to say thank you back."
Back Alley has also become a top Reader's Choice award winner in the annual Newton Kansan publication.
Back Alley is located at 121 W. Sixth. Genova is located at 1021 Washington Road, No. 300.