By the time Roberto Quinonez moved to North Carolina from Paraguay in the 1990s, he was a young man who already had experience working at Italian restaurants.
He honed his cooking skills in an Italian restaurant in Tarboro, and by 1990 had met Sandy, a coworker. The two fell in love and later married, forming something that went beyond the usual marital partnership.
With their combined experience and a dream, they moved to New Bern in 1997 and a year later started a restaurant they named for their first-born child. Paula’s Italian Restaurant & Pizza was first located off Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in a McCarthy Crossing shopping center storefront.
Over the years, the restaurant grew into one of New Bern’s most popular Italian restaurants, a mainstay for people craving rich pasta dishes, salads, and savory, hand-tossed pizzas. Predictably, as Roberto and Sandy had other children, the subject of the restaurant’s name was the subject of conversations among the younger children. “The other kids always asked why,” Roberto said.
After years of running a successful business and a 2012 partial remodeling at McCarthy Crossing, the couple expanded their vision for the business. They wanted to own their own property instead of paying rent. “We thought a lot before we did it,” Roberto says of their decision, and decided to go for it. In 2018, they built a brand new, bigger and better Paula’s on 3946 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.
Sandy decorated every detail of the public spaces. The new location was transformational, changing Paula’s from a strip mall Mom-and-Pop eatery, to an elegant dining experience. Paula’s lovely dining areas and delicious food make it a top New Bern destination for an authentic Italian dining experience. “It has an improved ambience,” said Roberto.
Roberto makes pizza dough every day in his gleaming, spacious, well equipped kitchen, and makes sure things are as they should be. He says he is very picky about the quality of the food, and feels right at home in the kitchen.
Building their own restaurant was a risk that paid off. Customers not only found the new Paula’s, they told their friends, and now a line spills out the door on most weekend nights. Roberto said that customers’ favorite dishes are lasagne and chicken Parmesan, and that many diners come during the week to enjoy fresh seafood specials. Under normal conditions, the restaurant seats 134, with 52 of those seats located in a meeting room that is great for parties. The maximum seating capacity is 67 under COVID restrictions.