A view from Dave Trott: Grandma knows best
A view from Dave Trott

Grandma knows best

Joe Scaravella lived in Brooklyn.

In just one year, he lost his grandmother, his mother and his sister.

To escape the sad memories, he moved to Staten Island.

While walking, he noticed a vacant shop on the main street, and several things came together in Joe’s mind.

First – although he couldn’t cook, being Italian he’d always wanted to own and run a restaurant.

Second – most restaurants claim to be "artisanal", even though this actually means young bearded chefs who’d only read about artisanal traditions.

Third – Joe missed the strong, powerful women in his life.

So putting all these thoughts together gave Joe an idea.

What if he opened a restaurant that was genuinely artisanal, not just in theory?

What if he could find genuine Italian grandmas, like his own, to come and cook?

Those grandmas ("nonna" in Italian) wouldn’t have learned recipes from books.

They’d have learned it from their mothers, who learned it from their mothers, and so on going back generations.

Joe knew there were Italian nonnas like this living in Brooklyn.

They’d spent their lives cooking for their husbands, who were now dead, and their children, who’d grown up and left home.

So these nonnas had no-one to cook for.

Giving them a job, cooking their traditional dishes, would give them a new lease of life.

So Joe opened Enoteca Maria (named after his mother) in 2006 and it was an immediate success.

It served a different sort of food than any other Italian restaurant.

It was the traditional food of poor people: sheep’s head, liver, hearts, gizzards, food you couldn’t get anywhere else.

Then one day in 2015, it occurred to Joe that there were many grandmothers from all over the world in New York, not just Italian.

And Joe began expanding the restaurant to offer traditional food from different grandmas.

One nonna would always be Italian, but the other would be a different country each night.

So Monday – Pakistan, Tuesday – Sri Lankan, Wednesday – Philippines, Thursday – Armenian, Friday – Russian, and so on.

Always with a choice of traditional Italian food if you preferred.

But these recipes would be what you couldn’t get anywhere else – genuine folk food cooked by the people who grew up with recipes that couldn’t be found in any cookbook.

And the grandmas love it.

They get to meet and swap recipes with different grandmas from all over the world.

They get to cook their food, and a restaurant-full of people who love to eat it.

And the people come back again and again, because every night Joe’s restaurant is a different restaurant: Polish, Nigerian, Syrian, Colombian, Greek, Argentinian, Czech, Ecuadorian, Dominican, Algerian, Liberian.

And every night Joe’s restaurant is packed.

He can’t believe it – he has people booking from London, Sydney and Paris before they even get to New York.

And Joe can’t believe people get on the Staten Island ferry to come to his restaurant.

Like he says, you have Manhattan right there: 24,457 eating places, of which 7,995 are rated among the best restaurants in the world.

Why would anyone get on the ferry to come to a restaurant in Staten Island?

The answer is what works in advertising and everywhere else.

The answer is: Joe’s restaurant is different, and that’s what works.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.