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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)
This restaurant has closed.

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
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.
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
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.

Another view of the fire. (Courtesy
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.


  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 ;)

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

  3. I am a Maestri born in California;Linda Wade. I am 72 now. My mother Grace Maestri born to Agnes and Albano Maestri was Mary's neice. I am Mary's grand niece. My mother Grace and her sister Beanie(lavinia) grew up serving at Aunt Mary's restaurant. The sauce is the family sauce i grew up eating. I remember visiting Tontitown every other summer in the 50's and 60's. We always visited Aunt Mary at the original restaurant which was in her home. When we arrived the hostess would say 'family 'and immediately seat us in the original dining room. Aunt Mary would come down from her bedroom and join us.
    A few years ago i visited the new location in Springdale. When we got in the long line a server came by taking names and she exclaimed 'family 'and took us to a table where the owner cousin Danny joined us. Great memories!great food

    1. My great-grandparents were Cicero and Elizabeth Maestri. I remember going to Marie's as a young child and my sister still makes the tortellini recipe every New Years that our great-grandmother used to make. Because I now reside in the Pacific North West, I've not been to the new location, I just hope it has the same Old World Charm the previous ristorante did!

  4. I was on a date in 1975 to the original ristorante
    I was attending U.of A.
    A really cool place and glad i was able to enjoy the experience!

  5. I remember driving through Tontitown in about 1973. I was very young. We stopped to visit Maestri's. My father's grandmother was a Maestri from Mantova - where the Maestri's originally came from. My parents - both from Italy - often looked up potential friends and family when we traveled. I can't believe I remembered all of this. That's the deep past. I live in California and will be visiting Arkansas for the first time in 50 years and will make it a point to stop in.


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