This New York City Restaurant Invites Grandmothers to Cook

Nonnas are stirring things up in the kitchen.



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Maybe you grew up eating food made by your grandmothers, mouth-watering dishes that bring back sweet, cherished memories. Perhaps it was Italian lasagna or Hungarian goulash or even Japanese dumplings. Now, at Enoteca Maria, a unique restaurant in New York City, you can eat the culinary equivalent of your grandmother’s cooking.  

When Joe Scaravella opened his restaurant, he named it after his mother. Then, in an inspired gesture to remember his formidable Italian grandmother, Joe invited local grandmothers—or nonnas—to cook authentic Italian fare in his kitchen.

When his mother, grandmother, and sister died in quick succession, Scaravella wanted to honor them. “After losing all these matriarchal figures in my life, I wanted to try to recreate that: the grandma cooking at the stove,” he told the New York Times. 

Grandmother's dream big
Enoteca Maria is an Italian restaurant where half of the menu changes daily. The fixed half is Italian; the rotating half incorporates cuisines from all over the world. And it’s not professional chefs calling the shots in the kitchen, it’s grandmothers!

Each night, a grandmother from a different country designs a fresh menu, honoring her native cuisine and the food she loves best.

“I was born and raised in Brooklyn,” Scaravella writes on Enoteca Maria's website. “Both my parents were hard workers, seldom home. De facto the head of the household in our family was my mother’s mom, Nonna Domenica. She is the one who passed down to us her culture with, at its very heart, her culinary traditions.”

After moving from Brooklyn to Staten Island in 2006, Scaravella noticed an open storefront on Hyatt Street. That is where Enoteca Maria now stands.

“I remember [my nonna] going to the market every day bringing her shopping cart,” Scaravella recalls. “She stopped at the vegetable shops and bit a peach or tasted a cherry, and if it was good she bought them. Otherwise, she spat it on the ground with a disgusted expression on her face. I was amazed that nobody ever complained about it but after all everybody there knew her.”

Scaravella realized that his grandmother had been the repository of his family’s culture and identity. “I found out that, like her, millions of grandmothers all over the world pass down their heritage to their grandchildren, he said.”

Nonnas of the World
When the restaurant first opened, several local Italian grandmothers from different Italian regions would cook their own special dishes on a rotating schedule, sometimes launching into friendly competitions of whose dish was better, reported The Epoch Times.

When people from different cultures visited the restaurant to get a taste of authentic Italy, Scaravella decided to extend his winning formula to include women from across the globe, and thus, in 2015, the “Nonnas of the World,” initiative was born.

“It just seemed to make sense to celebrate every culture,” he told The Epoch Times.

Other countries that have been featured at Enoteca Maria include Peru, Trinidad, Argentina, Japan, the Czech Republic, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Sri Lanka, and more. Around 30 women from different nationalities rotate through the kitchen.

Current and future fare
Currently, the restaurant is only open three days a week: Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Although it’s usually packed, the nonnas don’t seem fazed.

“These ladies can cook in a commercial environment,” Scaravella said. Scaravella is always looking for new cultures to represent. He’s also been approached many times by people who would like to franchise his idea, though he has declined until now. In London, a copycat restaurant La Mamma Mia offers Italian cuisine cooked by Italian mothers.

Enoteca Maria’s website lists the menu for each day the restaurant is open. On January 22, 2022, the menu included an introduction to the featured nonna (Adelina from Napoli), and a description of her dishes, including calamari ripieni.

During the Corona pandemic, Enoteca Maria was mostly closed to adhere to the lockdowns and to protect the grandmothers, most of whom were in the older and vulnerable population. Many of the grandmothers continued to use the kitchen, according to All News Press, providing food to staff working overtime in health facilities. They also made sauces from their home countries that Scaravella then sold.

Enoteca Maria reopened in August 2022 when the majority of nonnas had finally been vaccinated. First, a grandmother from Sri Lanka took over the kitchen. Now, business is running at full speed in one of the most original restaurants in Staten Island.

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