BULLHEAD CITY — A local favorite plumbing supply store turned Italian sandwich shop is hanging up its knives.
After 15 years of providing homemade Italian sandwiches and copious amounts of smart-alecky banter, owners Frank and Kathy LoVerde are closing Mama Mia’s Italian Restaurant & Deli on Nov. 30.
“Our motto is ‘Great food, crummy service,’ ” said Frank LoVerde.
“With the ugliest waitress in town,” finished Kathy LoVerde. “That’s him.”
The LoVerdes have decided to retire.
“It’s really been a lovely endeavor,” Kathy said. “It’s just getting physically hard for us. Now that we’re in our 70s —”
Frank interrupted, “You just turned 70 (last week), don’t make it sound like we’ve been dragging around for years.”
Regular customers of Mama Mia’s recognize the friendly banter between the couple that often extends to everyone in the room. Newcomers take it in stride — and often come back for more.
“I have to tell you, I have a terrible time with Frank,” Kathy said. “If I paid him I would fire him. He table hops; if he’s taking too long, they’ll write their own orders and bring them back to the kitchen.”
Frank said, “We do have some (customers) that write their own orders; a couple of them run their own cash and ring stuff up.”
“It’s very casual,” Kathy said.
Both said what they’ll miss the most is their customers.
“If it was the kind of business that you didn’t have the interaction with the customer I wouldn’t have done it for very long,” Frank said. “It’s that interaction with the customers that took years and years to establish and that’s made it fun.”
Kathy said, “And the customers get into it, too. Frank doesn’t like me yelling to come pick the food up, so he gave me a bell. So I ring the bell and here will come the customer to pick up their own food. And then I have to come out and yell at him. He sent in one lady the other day for her ham sandwich and I said ‘Frank get your butt in here and get this food.’ And everybody laughed.”
The couple retired the first time in the early 1990s, after selling their California plumbing business. Having spent every other weekend of the previous six years at their property in Fort Mohave, they chose to retire there. The two also began their 20-year service to the Bullhead City Police Auxiliary, Frank serving as its commander and Kathy working in operations.
But after two years of retirement, they were at loose ends, Frank said. Because they had always been in the plumbing business, in 1996 they bought a plumbing and electrical store at 915 Marina Blvd.
“As time went on — the business slowed down,” Kathy said. “Frank and I were talking about it and he said ‘I had the craziest dream last night: I dreamed you were selling meatball sandwiches out of the electrical supply room.’”
Four months later, they opened up a to-go sandwich counter in the remodeled electrical room, the food created from family recipes and Frank’s own concoctions, including his Sicilian Secret Stuff sauce. In 2008, the couple abandoned the plumbing business and fulfilled Frank’s dream.
“We never knew what was going to happen, we never had a restaurant before,” Frank said. “I’ve never personally considered it work. Of course if my customers were in here, they’d be saying what do you mean work, you never work anyhow. The point is we’ve had so much fun. It’s been such a joy.”
The two met in California when Frank, a native of Chicago, was 17 and Kathy was 15. Kathy’s mother lost her watch in the store where Frank was working as a box boy. Someone else found the watch and Frank paid them $5 so he could be the one to return it to Kathy’s mother.
“I knew somehow, he was going to bring it down to my mom,” Kathy said. “She had a $20 bill — which in those days was a lot of money — in an envelope for him.”
Frank said, “Her mother said, thank you so much, here take this (envelope) and I said no, no. And Kathy’s sitting there, 15 years old, and she said, ‘Take it, you can take me out with it.’ ”
Neither ever really dated anyone else.
The couple said they would love to sell the business and see someone continue with it.
“We would love to see that, but like most of our customers say, we’re 75 percent of the business,” Frank said.
The LoVerdes also will be hosting a giant sale in December of the antiques and collectibles that fill the restaurant and overflow their storage area.
“There’s tens of thousands of items,” Frank said. “From records to furniture to silverware to china, old Tonka toys, all kinds of collectibles. I’m going to bring it all in and have a very big sale.”
Then they plan to sell the building.
“Nov. 30 is going to be very emotional,” Kathy said. “It’s taken me a long time to get my head around it because it is a complete change in life.”
Frank said, “For our really good customers we’ve already exchanged phone numbers, and our snowbirds we told last year we probably wouldn’t be here much longer. We’ll go to lunch when they come into town — we’re going to be very busy and we’ve already got about 25 or 30 who have asked where we live so they can come by and eat once in a while.”