Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Legacy of Mary and Aldo Maestri.

An excerpt from the new book Classic Eateries of the Ozarks and Arkansas River Valleyby Kat Robinson (photography by Grav Weldon), published November 2013 by History Press.  For more information, click here.

The sign outside Mary Maestri's,
circa 2010. (News 5)
The oldest of the restaurants still serving the (northwest Arkansas) area is still with us, though it has moved from Tontitown to Springdale.

In 1904, there was a young Irish woman by the name of Mary Ritter who attended the Tontitown Grape Festival. There, she met Aldo Maestri. They fell in love, and soon, Mary moved in with the Maestri family, where she learned how to make pasta and sauces and all the good dishes Aldo loved.

An original Mary Maestri's menu. (Courtesy Mary Maestri's)
In 1923, the grape harvest failed, and the young couple turned to selling dinners out of their home instead. Aldo made wine, Mary made the food and word spread about the place way out in the country where you had to have reservations to come eat. Still, at seventy-five cents a person for all the pasta, chicken and bread you could eat, it was deemed
well worth it.

Margaret Franco worked
with Mary in the early days.
This hand-cranked pasta
roller was donated back to
the Maestri's by Franco's
family.
The Maestri family didn’t have a telephone, but they did have a friend with a plane. He would drop reservations he took by phone over their place, and the restaurant prospered madly. Mary served up so much chicken she had to eventually sign on with a processor in town; before then, she caught and cleaned the birds from the farm herself.

E. A. Maestri on the job. (Courtesy Mary Maestri's)
Mary and Aldo opened a larger restaurant in 1947 with their son, Edward, who was quite an innovator. He built machines that would roll and cut the pasta for Mary and figured out how to properly freeze meat sauce and spaghetti, and then he sold it to stores to sell to their customers. Remember, this was before the TV dinner, at a time when the only frozen foods in the grocery stores there were strawberries.

Daniel Maestri. (Twitter)
Aldo passed away in 1959, and in 1968, Ed took on the responsibilities of teaching the business to his twenty-two-year-old son, Daniel, with the help of his mother. But in 1977, Ed died suddenly. Mary passed three years later.

The second Mary Maestri's.
(foiaspringdale.blogspot.com)
Daniel built a bigger home and restaurant that year, since the old one was structurally unsound.

Kyle DeVito prepares meat at the second Mary Maestri's location.
(Photo by Andy Shupe, courtesy NWAOnline.com)
The 1980s and 1990s were tough times, but the restaurant managed to persevere.

May 13, 2010:  Mary Maestri's closed for non-payment of sales tax.
(Courtesy NWAOnline)


Fire destroys second location of Mary Maestri's on February 4, 2012.
(Courtesy ArkansasOnline.com)


Another view of the fire. (Courtesy NWAOnline.com)
In 2010, the Tontitown location was forced to close, but two years later, the eatery opened up in the former Front Porch Diner location in Springdale as Mary Maestri’s Italiano Grillroom and Aldo’s Wine and Coffee Bar. There, it is thriving.

Mary Maestri's at its Springdale location today. (Kat Robinson)

Inside Mary Maestri's. (Grav Weldon)

The famed Chicken Parmigiana.  (Grav Weldon)
Today, Daniel’s three sons are heavily involved in the business. A lot has been added to the menu, including steaks, sandwiches, seafood and spumoni. Mary Maestri’s no longer serves the bone-in chicken beside the spaghetti. Instead, it’s chicken parmigiana, with a fried chicken breast served under the sauce over noodles. But it’s still that same great sauce that brought travelers to the Maestri’s door more than eighty-five years ago.

2 comments:

  1. I remember eating in the original restaurant when I was a kid. Many of the tables were under, or close to the rafters, so there was a bit of a low clearance ;)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've been hearing about Mary Maestri's since I started dating my husband. Still haven't been there. Must remedy.

    ReplyDelete

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