This restaurant is run by the proprietor Scaravella in remembrance of his deceased relatives who were skilled chefs.
The art of cooking requires experience, skill, and a great deal of affection. It is the connection you form with the food, the people who prepare it, and the people you share it with. This Staten Island eatery has accomplished this through its food and the affection it shares with its patrons. According to The Washington Post, it is run by grandmothers known as “nonnas of the world,” and everyone applauds for them every day before it closes.
It is a celebration of the food and culture from which these grandmothers originate. Enoteca Maria is a casual Italian restaurant with 30 seats where approximately a dozen women regularly work and cook. The cuisine is created and prepared by a rotating group of international women, the majority of whom are matriarchs. It has become so popular that it is no longer possible to walk in and obtain a table. One of the nonnas, Maria Gialanella, 88, has attracted such a following that some customers will only dine at the restaurant when she is in the kitchen. She is overjoyed and delighted to see guests enjoy her culinary masterpieces.
She stated, “Everybody likes it, so I’m very happy.” The Italian immigrant is renowned for her homemade ravioli, ragus, and other family recipes she learned while growing up in Naples. Joe Scaravella, the restaurant’s proprietor, opened the eatery in 2007 and is Gialanella’s biggest fan. He said, “She is not even 5 feet tall, but she’s a powerhouse. She goes around and does selfies. She spends the night hugging people.” Around nine years ago, Scaravella decided to broaden the criteria for joining the kitchen staff. Previously, you had to be an Italian grandmother like Gialanella to work in the kitchen.
Scaravella stated that the cooks, who are all referred to as “nonna” by diners regardless of their ethnicity, range in age from 50 to 90 and are knowledgeable about the cuisine of each culture. Although not all are grandmothers, the majority are. At Enoteca Maria, Yumi Komatsudaira prepares traditional Japanese food. Despite not having grandchildren, she is also referred to as nonna, and she is thrilled with the title. She specializes in traditional Japanese dishes such as dumplings, dengaku, and an endless variety of salty to sweet noodle preparations.
Scaravella and the restaurant manager, Paola Vento, collaborate with the nonnas to plan the weekly schedule and menu. “My favourite part of the job is getting to work with the grandmothers”, Vento said. He added that they appreciate it when customers applaud the visiting nonnas at the end of the night. He elaborated, “You have to see the faces of the nonnas. They are so proud and so excited that they were able to share a part of their culture through food.” Vento asserts that a number of the nonnas have developed close relationships. Despite speaking different languages and originating from different regions, they have found ways to connect, primarily through food.
To pay homage to Scaravella’s heritage, the restaurant initially served primarily Italian cuisine. After the deaths of numerous family members, including his Italian-born grandmother and mother, as well as his sister, he opened the restaurant. He stated that they were all excellent chefs. He said, “The real story behind this place is grief — my own personal grief after losing a lot of my family, and trying to re-create them. That was what it was all driven by.”
Despite the fact that Scaravella misses his own nonna, he reports that his heart and stomach are once again full. What began as an effort to reconnect with his heritage has facilitated the same for others.