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This New York Restaurant Staffs Its Kitchen ONLY With Everybody's Favorite Cooks: Grandmothers
Success Stories

This New York Restaurant Staffs Its Kitchen ONLY With Everybody's Favorite Cooks: Grandmothers

Home-cooked meals + nonnas = yes, please.

Who doesn't love a good home-cooked meal?

Joe Scaravella certainly does.

When he opened the restaurant Enoteca Maria in Staten Island, he named it after his mother, who had passed away. “It was grief-driven and I had no business plan. I had no experience. I never even worked in a restaurant, no idea what I was doing,” he admits. “And so it just kind of unfolded.”

Looking back, Scaravella sees the journey as “trying to recreate that part of my life,” the part where he was surrounded by the love — and good cooking — of his grandmother, his mother, and his sister.

Scaravella was born in Brooklyn and his grandmother was born in Sicily. Scaravella describes her as sweet, kind — and the best cook. So very shortly after opening Enoteca Maria, Scaravella called upon some Italian nonnas to help him out in the kitchen. 

Home-cooked Meals From Nonnas draw hungry patrons

The first grandmothers he hired to staff the kitchen were all Italian.

But several years into the wildly successful experiment, Scaravella opened those swinging doors to grandmothers from all over the world.

The current rotation counts 30 to 40 women, but over 100 grandmothers from all over the world have cooked at Enoteca Maria. 

Although not professional chefs, these women have been cooking for decades. They cook dishes that they learned at a young age and have perfected alongside their own mothers and grandmothers.

The restaurant’s website states that “real grandmothers from every country across the globe are invited and hired as chefs to cook the recipes handed down to them that they cook at home for their families, that make up the fabric of the culture they were born and raised in.”

While the restaurant’s staff might not come from every country in the world, the running list is nothing to scoff at.

Grandmothers have cooked traditional dishes hailing from Algeria, Bangladesh, Syria, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Japan, Trinidad, Belarus, Poland, France, and more.

Customers are over the moon.

Enoteca Maria has over 14,000 followers on Facebook, 10,000 on Instagram, and 500 Google reviews with a rating of 4.6/5.

“Everybody, they’re kissing me,” gushes Gianlanella, an Italian nonna who cooks at the restaurant. “They wanna make a photograph with me. Everybody say, ‘Oh, I love you, I’ll come again. I wanna see you again.’”

Those happy customers can do just that. For those who have a favorite grandmother-cook, the restaurant’s Nonnas Calendar lets them know which grandmothers will be in the kitchen on which nights.

Grandmothers share their wealth of knowledge

Enoteca Maria’s home-cooked meals are not just a passing fancy. Some of these grandmothers have been cooking regularly at the restaurant for nearly a decade. The women say the work has added happiness and friends to their lives. They love meeting people.

“I feel very lucky. You won’t find me sitting around,” said Rosa Correa, a Peruvian grandmother.

Nobody knew me,” said another of the restaurant’s grandmothers, this one from Greece. “Now everybody loves me. I have a lot of people, like 1,000 people on the Facebook list and Instagram. I’m very happy. I’m proud.”

A third grandmother added, “When I cook here, I feel like I’m showing the world a part of Syria. It’s good to show there’s something good coming out of my homeland.”

Scaravella also weighed in on the benefits of hiring grandmothers in the kitchen “Many times, these women are empty nesters. Their husbands have passed away. Their children have moved out. So, they’re really looking for an outlet and they have it here. And you know, if they’re not hugging me, they’re hugging their customers.”

Home-cooked meals for the next generation

Customers now come not only to eat the delicious food—but also to learn how to cook it! The restaurant gives cooking lessons, and true to it’s homey, down-to-earth vibe, the lessons are free and one-on-one with a grandmother in the kitchen. Obviously, there’s a long waiting list.

“I think it’s very important to bring people together, and I think food and music and art do that, comfortably, and I’m very proud to be part of that movement,” said Scaravella, whose restaurant was featured on BBC Travel.

And just in case you were wondering, there isone grandpa among the kitchen staff. He’s from Italy and makes all the pasta for the restaurant.

For Scaravella, the restaurant is a win-win-win: keeping alive the memories of the beloved women in his life, providing these grandmothers from all over the world with a place to share their time and talents, and giving the restaurant’s customers a place to call “home."

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