Rave reviews for restaurant-themed book

Natalie Pantaleo always thought it might be a children’s book that landed her on the bookshelves of her favorite stores.

The South Philly native had written three children’s books and shopped them around to publishers just waiting for a nibble. Little did she know, her big break was all in her head.

Pantaleo, 57, jotted down vignettes from waiting tables in a famous Philadelphia restaurant and sent a few chapters of her experiences on the tail end of one of her book proposals. And suddenly, she had a hit novella on her hands. Lying Down with Dogs was published by The Awakening Press and is receiving rave reviews from critics on amazon.com, including the top billing among New Releases in Humorous American Literature. It will be available for purchase on Sept. 12.

“I had tried the publishing route with children’s books,” Pantaleo recalled. “I tried with the one book that had the widest appeal and I got 150 of the nicest rejection letters. I understood how daunting the process was of getting a book published.”

So it came partly as a surprise when Lindsay A. Dierking, publisher and founder of The Awakened Press in Scottsdale, Arizona had inquired about Pantaleo’s restaurant experiences. 

To go back a few chapters, Pantaleo had been writing children’s books, but at the same time, had been jotting down funny stories from when she worked in the restaurant industry for a high-class establishment while attending classes at Temple University. 

The money was good. The stories and interactions were even better.

“I was 19 and I worked at a restaurant as a junior when I was at Temple University,” she said. “And I ended up being there for 11 years. Most of the women I worked with there — same story. We all had professions during the day but we all made so much money that we kept those jobs way longer than most restaurant jobs.”

Pantaleo then met a therapist while attending a retreat in Sedona, Arizona in March 2020. The therapist said she would refer Pantaleo to her goddaughter, Dierking. A few months later, the phone rang. Pantaleo sent her children’s book idea to Dierking but also decided to include a few chapters from the restaurant. 

Dierking called and wanted more.

“I never thought of it as a book,” Pantaleo said. “What I realized was I had my coming-of-age story right in my hands. And all the crazy experiences at this restaurant that I was privy to there. I had all these vignettes and about two-thirds of a book.”

The name of the restaurant was changed in the book but the stories are real. Dierking prodded Pantaleo to dig deeper in her memory, and together the two women pieced together a 186-page book of humorous tales from the job.

“It just worked. It was like the flow of the universe and everything fell into place and continues to fall into place with this book,” Pantaleo said. “It’s an amazing experience for me and sometimes I have to pinch myself. Not only is the book being published but the kind of enthusiasm I’m receiving. I’m humbled and exhilarated at the same time.”

Lying Down with Dogs is described by The Awakened Press as “a humorously anecdotal, fast-reading novella for anyone who’s spent time working in a restaurant, on the dating scene, or can appreciate the funny side of self-help. It will make you laugh out loud and touch your heart as all the big themes play out in this fictional story set in Philadelphia — beauty, money, sex, power, friendships and the question of who’s using who. This little book of big characters is delivered by the narrator, Valerie, who gets a front-row seat to a racy, diametric lifestyle that eventually changes the way she views the world.”

Pantaleo, a St. Maria Goretti graduate who grew up near 10th and Tasker streets, has worked in marketing and communications all her life while writing on the side. 

Lying Down with Dogs has been living on notepads for about 12 years and will now appear in paperback in bookstores everywhere and will be released by 40,000 distributors around the world. The book is available for pre-ordering on Amazon.com as an eBook and paperback.

The first physical copy went to Pantaleo’s residence.

“When I got it, I just kind of held it for a few minutes and stared at it,” she said. “Like, wow, this is my book. I feel like I went over it electronically 10,000 times. But reading it and putting it in my hands was surreal. It was really, really cool.”