Teresa Corea-Golka tells her kids she’ll never stop working.
“I tell them, ‘I’ll die at this counter,’ ” she said.
Corea-Golka, 55, of Santa Ana runs the Italian restaurant Roma D’Italia with her sister, Tina Corea-Rossetti. The restaurant has become an integral part of the Old Town Tustin community since it opened in 1961.
The family-run restaurant has been owned by the Dominic Corea family since he purchased it in 1968.
Corea-Golka said the restaurant was her father’s first experience in the food business.
“He was a journeyman carpenter,” Corea-Golka said. “So my dad learned by watching. He was tremendously intelligent.”
He also had some help from his family. The Coreas spent time in various roles in the restaurant. Corea-Golka started working as a busgirl when she was 11.
“I have done everything in the restaurant,” Corea-Golka said. “In those days we didn’t have washing machines so I did all that by hand.”
Dominic Corea died in 1993 and Corea-Golka currently runs the show. She employs much of the same tactics her father imparted to her as she grew up, and the restaurant hasn’t changed much.
“We are traditional and we don’t change,” Corea-Golka said. “We give people what they want.”
At Roma D’Italia, you won’t get fancy fare. This is traditional Italian comfort food.
“If you are coming here to see a dessert dish all decorated up, you won’t find that here,” Corea-Golka said.
The menu includes all the hits — pasta, veal, seafood, pizza and an assortment of desserts. Everything is homemade, including the gnocchi. Many of the dishes still served were gleaned from Nina Corea, Corea-Golka’s mother.
Much of the food is still purchased from the same family-based purveyors since the restaurant opened.
“I know they say everybody is on a diet, but they sure do eat a lot of fettuccine alfredo,” Corea-Golka said.
The personnel has remained constant: Many of the cooks have been around for decades.
Like her father, Corea-Golka includes her family in the business. Her daughter, Anna Golka-Yepez, is a manager. She’s been helping out at the restaurant since she was 12.
“We are really lucky to have this place,” said Golka-Yepez, 27, of Santa Ana. “I have had other jobs but I always come back here. I love doing this the most.”
To Corea-Golka, customers return because of their attraction to the traditional food and the family-oriented atmosphere. Corea-Golka regularly makes the rounds on the dining floor to greet her customers.
She also makes sure that the servers help cultivate good ties among the customers. Waiting on a table should be like having a party at one’s home, she says.
“Tustin is a very loyal community base,” Corea-Golka said. “We have guests who have been eating here since I was a kid.”
While the restaurant’s DNA hasn’t changed over time, the edifice has undergone a few expansions, most recently in 2011. In the beginning, Roma D’Italia had just 10 tables and was perpetually crowded.
Currently, in between focusing on the daily maelstrom of the restaurant business, Corea-Golka has been teaching Golka-Yepez the ins and outs of the trade with the intent of passing her a “part” of the baton in the future.
Corea-Golka said she never plans on fully retiring.
“I have worked since I was a child and to say that I am ever going to stay home is a lie,” Corea-Golka said. “I don’t know what fuels me, I guess I am just crazy that way.”
That drive seems to have been passed on to her daughter.