Some people seek out culinary skills; others have skills thrust upon them.
Such is the case with Joyce Shanks who, along with husband Jim owns Bellas Italian Café on Habersham Street.
"My grandmother initially sparked my interest in cooking," says Shanks. "It seemed like she was always cooking. I would watch her in the kitchen, growing up, and I learned many of her recipes."
Given her culinary coaching, one would think that going into the restaurant business would have been a given for Shanks, but being a restaurateur was not her first career choice.
"I was actually a dance major in college," she says. "I worked at different restaurants while I was in school to make a living, and I found that I enjoyed it. I decided that I wanted to own one of my own one day."
Shanks opened her first restaurant in 1973 above her home in Pennsylvania. That is where her future husband stepped into the picture again.
"I grew up in New Jersey, and my husband and I were childhood friends," Shanks recalls. "We kept in touch off and on over the years, and when I opened the restaurant, I called him in Europe and told him about it."
Jim Shanks flew to Pennsylvania and was impressed by her eatery and, as fate would have it, her as well. The two eventually married, and after their yearlong honeymoon, they opened their first restaurant together in Atlanta.
After vacationing in Savannah several times, they began to toy with the idea of moving there. Competition in Atlanta was fierce; Savannah had relatively few Italian restaurants. Ultimately, they made the move, and in 1993, Bellas opened its doors to the city.
While Shanks doesnt cook at Bellas as much as she did when they opened, her love of cooking is still there. She still enjoys cooking at home, and occasionally teaches cooking classes at the restaurant, passing her knowledge on to others. In September, she plans to resume her lessons.
Bellas menu includes many Italian favorites, as well as a few dishes Im willing to bet youve never heard of, such as their Chicken-in-a-Bag (Breast of chicken, artichokes, black olives, a spicy marinara and bay) which is baked just as the name would suggest.
Two of the most popular dishes at Bellas are their Baked Ziti with Sausage and their Manicotti. The ziti features sweet Italian sausage baked with marinara and a variety of cheeses, while the manicotti consists of pasta stuffed with a mixture of three cheeses, baked and covered with marinara and cheese. All entrees include a small Italian salad and breadsticks.
Grilled Paninis are a popular lunch-only item, and there are a variety of types to choose from, such as the grilled chicken, tomato, mozzarella and pesto Panini. They (as well as all other sandwiches) are served with your choice of spicy french fries or salad.
Bellas also boasts an extensive wine list, filled with unique and competitively priced selections. Desserts at Bellas include a housemade Oreo Kahlua Cheesecake, as well as Cannolis, Spumoni and Tiramisu. Banquet services are available for parties of up to 40, and family/party packs are available for take-out if you prefer to enjoy your meal at home. Both lunch and dinner specials are offered daily.
"Our main goal at Bellas is consistency," says Shanks. "Whether you choose to dine in or order something to go, you can expect the same quality every time you come here."
Bellas Italian Café is at 4420 Habersham street, between 60th and 61st. Hours are Monday thru Friday, 11:30 to 2:00 pm, reopening for dinner at 5 p.m. Closing is at 9 p.m. on Monday thru Thursday, and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Sunday hours are 5-8 p.m. For reservations (of 6 or more only), or daily specials, call 354-4005. Visit