Mindy Sullivan says she and partner Tony Dimaio didn’t realize that, when they chose the name Cima for their restaurant venture in Wilbraham, it would turn into such a conversation starter.
But that’s what it has become, and in most all ways, that’s been a positive development.
For starters, there’s the pronunciation; most don’t get it right. It’s actually ‘cheema,’ although most will leave out the ‘h,’ which leads to a quick correction if Sullivan or another staff member is within earshot. Then, there’s the translation of that term, which usually comes up, because most patrons need one.
In Italian, cima means hilltop (or summit or mountaintop, although Sullivan and Dimaio usually focus on hilltop), which is what the restaurant lies on; it’s also the name that was on this building years ago — the Hilltop (it was most recently known as Horizons, however).
Between the pronunciation, the translation, and then a quick history of this property along busy Route 20, there’s plenty to talk about, said Sullivan, adding quickly that there’s generally more to the conversation.
And this often comes down to what Cima Restaurant and Chop House isn’t — although the menu makes this abundantly clear. Indeed, while the name is Italian, this eatery isn’t what would be called traditional Italian in its cuisine.
Indeed, while there are some of the stalwarts, like linguini with clams, chicken Milanese, veal marsala, and seafood Mediterranean, the menu tilts heavily toward the ‘chop house’ side of its name, said Dimaio, with everything from a 20-ounce ribeye to double-cut lamb chops to a thick veal chop.
“We didn’t want this to be the typical red-sauce Italian restaurant,” he said, adding that the traditional Italian favorites, steaks and chops, and the overall broad diversity of the menu has made it easy for patrons of the other establishments that have been on this site to return to that stretch of Route 20.
“This has long been a dining destination,” Dimaio, formerly the long-time executive chef at the Monte Carlo in West Springfield, told BusinessWest. “And with Cima, it’s become a destination again.”
In many ways, this venture represents the summit — to date, at least — in a career in cooking that began with Dimaio working in various pizza shops before gradually opening his own place, with Sullivan, in rural Erving.
Cima is closer to home (East Forest Park) for the partners, and also closer to the vision of the restaurant operation the two have long sought to operate.
For this issue and its annual Restaurant Guide, BusinessWest ventured to the hilltop (that’s lowercase) to see why the latest name over the door on this well-known property is generating conversation that goes well beyond that name and what it means.
It was a week or so before Mother’s Day, and the calls to the front desk at Cima were coming at a fairly steady clip.
One only needed to hear Sullivan’s side of the conversation to grasp the big picture — and the questions being asked on the other end. Over the span of a few calls, she communicated that the restaurant would have special hours — it would open at noon rather than at 4 — as well as a ‘holiday’ menu with a few additional specials, and, yes, they were still taking reservations.
“It’s become one of the very busiest days of the year — right there with New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day,” said Sullivan, who, by day, is the director of Environmental Health and Safety at Westfield State University. She added quickly that, while Cima would certainly do well on Mother’s Day, as most restaurants do, she and Dimaio were more focused on the hundreds of non-holidays.
And by most all accounts, she said, Cima, which will soon mark a year in business, is off to a very respectable start in a highly competitive business — and also a highly competitive stretch of road.
“We’ve been quite pleased with the response thus far — business has been quite steady, and we have a great base of customers that keep returning on a regular basis,” said Sullivan, who attributed the solid start to a number of factors.
The location is obviously one of them, she told BusinessWest, adding, again, that generations from the same family have now been dining at that location, and essentially from the moment Horizons, which operated on that site for many years, closed, there was speculation — and anticipation — about what would follow, and when.
“A of people missed Horizons, and they were anxious for us to get the place open,” she recalled. “Throughout the three months we were readying it, we had a steady stream of visitors asking when we would be opening.”
And the site has a long history as a restaurant for a reason, said Sullivan, noting that this stretch of Route 20, just a mile or so from the Eastfield Mall in Springfield and also Post Office Park in Wilbraham, is very well-traveled. It’s also accessible to a number of communities, including Ludlow, Palmer, East Longmeadow, Hampden, and others.
And this location certainly played heavily in their decision making as the two partners looked for a solid opportunity within the broad hospitality sector.
“We were looking for something closer to home,” she noted. “And when this particular piece of real estate came on the market, we wanted to be part of the community.”
But location, while always one of the main ingredients for success in this business, to borrow an industry term, is just part of the equation, said Sullivan and Dimaio.
Other important ingredients include an eclectic menu, great service, and, above all else, consistency, they said, with one voice, adding that this is what Cima strives to deliver.
“That consistency is very important,” she noted, adding that it is a key factor in generating both return business and positive word-of-mouth advertising, which have been other factors in Cima’s solid first year in business.
Along with consistency, there is variety, said Dimaio, adding that several specials are offered every evening (prime rib is a common addition), as well as a number of seafood, veal, chicken, pasta, and salad options.
While Cima has become a destination for dinner, it is also “finding its way,” as Sullivan put it, when it comes to private functions such as memorial receptions, showers, birthdays, and others. On the day BusinessWest stopped by, the staff was cleaning up the restaurant after a first Communion gathering.
“The biggest challenge is keeping your product interesting to the public, and consistency is key,” she said in summation. “And we’re definitely keeping things interesting.”
Meat and Greet
While the new name over the door at 2200 Boston Road has been a conversation starter, the diverse menu, thick chops and steaks, and that consistency mentioned earlier are keeping the conversation going.
They’re also helping to continue the site’s long history as a dining destination.
The name means hilltop, and for the establishment’s owners, it means taking things to new heights — in all sorts of ways.
George O’Brien can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org