"It actually was something that my great grandpa had started years back," said Michael Bellino. "It actually was more or less like a hardware store" but with food, he said.
"You know, if you wanted something to eat, just leave a little change on the table and pick up your dishes, is basically what he did," cooking for the family "and whoever wanted to eat could eat," Bellino explained.
Bellino, 48, currently runs Suburban Garden with his wife Ginger, son Marco, 21, daughter Jessica, age 10, and sister Christina.
The hardware store was located further downtown but Bellino said the exact location is unknown since other buildings in the area have been torn down.
"My grandpa just kind of branched off after he got out of the service here and decided to open up a restaurant. He started this building, building it, in 1948 and carried on to '49; they opened in '51, so it took him awhile to get this done," he said.
Bellino pointed to an aerial photo taken in 1951 of the area that shows Suburban Garden at the time it opened.
"This was actually a gravel road right here," Bellino said, referring to Jackson Street.
The building's unique architectural style is "something my grandfather learned when he was in the service apparently because everything that he built was cinder-block and concrete," he said with a laugh.
Suburban Garden was the only restaurant in Alexandria that he's aware of that served Italian food in those days.
Other restaurants of the era included Herbie K's and Lea's Lunchroom in Lecompte.
Bellino's grandfather, Mike Giamanco, had a frozen food business at one time.
"He would do the meatball sauces, pizzas, all kinds of things, and had it frozen," Bellino said, for sale in grocery stores.
His grandfather had a brother named Charlie in Baton Rouge and would also take bread there while Charlie sent back cakes for the bakery here, Bellino said.
His grandfather worked right up to his death in 1986 at age 70. "They had a busy night here, he went home that night, and he passed that night," Bellino said. "My grandmother took over, and she just recently passed," he added.
In the interim, Bellino and his wife Ginger had been helping at the restaurant. Michael Bellino's parents were Marco and Joann Bellino, both now deceased.
When his grandmother needed help, Bellino's mother helped run the restaurant from time to time, he said.
His father had a Marco's Oyster Bar seafood restaurant until 1981 located in the Emerald Square Plaza at Jackson and MacArthur but it closed when he became ill, Bellino said.
"At one time, my great grandfather did have most of this property from Jackson Street almost all the way down to Sutherlands," he said.
"He farmed this land at one time," Bellino said, recalling his mother told him that his great grandfather would tell people " 'get what you want' because during the time it was hard times, 'just don't take more than you can eat, just don't waste.' "
Though family members branched out into other food related businesses or restaurants, Suburban Garden remained the mainstay of family business.
"The government did step in at one time and request that we put labels on the food products listing the ingredients" around 1972-73, Bellino said.
"And my grandfather says, well, we'll just stick with the restaurant business and we'll just do away with frozen foods," he said.
Restaurant hours are Tuesday to Saturday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
"We have what we call the Italian platter," Bellino said, which has manicotti, veal parmesan, spaghetti, sausage, meatball and a stuffed sea shell and provides a taste of restaurant offerings. "It's very popular," he said.
"We also specialized in take-out tubs of spaghetti (and meatballs), which usually feeds four," Bellino said. "Usually about 5 o'clock we start getting pretty busy on those to-go," he added.
Live entertainment for the customers "something new that we're trying," Bellino noted.
"I hate to say it but the older generation that's been coming here for years are passing on, and a lot of the younger people have seen the building so much they don't even give it a second thought," he said.
"So we're trying to attract different people, different crowds, and let people know, like, 'hey, we're still here!" Bellino said.
"Times are getting kind of hard and we've gotten so many franchise businesses that are opening up and it's really kind of put a dampener on things, so we're trying to get people at a younger age to start coming in and realize that we're here," he said.
The food itself remains the "fine" in fine-dining and of the quality that folks may remember who haven't visited in a while, however customers can come in dressed casually too.
"You can come in in shorts, in flip-flops, it doesn't matter, we want everybody who wants to come in that wants to eat to come in and eat. The prices aren't too bad. We're just trying to get everybody in here we can possibly get in," Bellino said.
Suburban Garden remains one of the oldest businesses still operating in Alexandria "and we're proud of that," he said.
Customers may still dine outside in the patio area. "If they feel like eating outside, that's fine," he said, adding there is a lounge as well as in-door dining.
"It's all family owned and operated. My son and I are the ones who work in the kitchen," he said.
"Sometimes when we're busy it may take a little longer for the foods to come in but just remember it's just us two in the back," Bellino said, laughing.
His son, Marco Bellino II, does "a fine job and I really depend on him quite a bit," Bellino said, adding his daughter, Jessica, age 10, also tries to help bus tables and clean up. "She's always a good little helper," he said.
Also his wife Ginger works in the restaurant along with his sister Christina Bellino.
Once a month, the restaurant also plans to play host to rock-type music groups and vocalists, such as Prenup and Crossroads, and recently hosted Jim Beisser, a saxophonist who played easy listening music.
"It's all something new. It's not always going to be all rock 'n' roll, I've got a blue grass band I'm going to try out. I'm just trying to hit all aspects of the music and give these guys something to do also. I'm helping them out and they're helping me out, so it's kind of a mutual deal there," he said.
"So, it's not always going to be just rock 'n' roll, it's going to be for everybody. I just want everybody to come out and enjoy themselves," Bellino said.
For more information, Suburban Garden has a Facebook presence online.