Martino’s Italian Villa Co-owner Talks Restaurant’s Past, Present and Future
Writer / Julie Yates
Martino’s Italian Villa is undeniably one of Kokomo’s most popular eating establishments. It has been at its current location on North Washington Street since 1972, and has existed since 1962. Mike Martino, son of Angela and Frank Martino who originally opened the restaurant, credits its success to delicious food made from authentic recipes.
In order to be proactive and ensure future generations can enjoy the same experience their parents and grandparents did, the owners decided to put the eatery, including its recipes, up for sale.
“The restaurant has been our life,” Mike Martino says. “As a kid, I spent more time at the restaurant than I did at home. Around the time I was about 9 years old, I was peeling onions and sweeping floors. At age 14, I was on the schedule doing carry-out. My parents did it the old way – if you want it done right, do it yourself. My 85-year-old mother is still here every day cooking and doing bookwork.”
It’s situated on the north end of town, and 90% of patrons are local and make a conscious decision to come to Martino’s. Most come in for a meal, and for years families have chosen the spot for occasions such as birthdays, rehearsal dinners, baby showers and even funeral dinners at the restaurant. Several generations of the same family have been employed there as well.
“We couldn’t do it without the customers and our staff,” Martino says. “People come in for the food and the atmosphere. We are actually serving the fourth and fifth generations of families. I went to school with the grandparents of some of our employees, and we have had three generations of the same family – grandmother, mother and son – work for us.”
It is hard to pin down the most popular items, since many patrons tend to rave about everything on the menu. All the dishes are made from Angela Martino’s old-world recipes. Italian roast beef sandwiches, pizza, lasagna, chicken parmesan and spaghetti with meatballs are huge sellers.
“I eat as much of our restaurant’s food and pizza now as I ever did,” Martino says. “I never get tired of it. A newer item, which has been on the menu only in the last five years but existed before as a special or if anyone asked for it, is Rolla Vacca. Rolla Vacca looks like a burrito, but it is Italian roast beef and mozzarella cheese rolled up in a lasagna noodle, then covered with marina sauce and more cheese. Some people ask for it to be made with Alfredo sauce.”
Martino has many memories associated with the restaurant, and one in particular stands out.
“During the ice storm of ’91, most of Kokomo lost power, but for some reason we didn’t,” he recalls. “Everyone was trying to find a place to eat that was open and people flocked in. It was an honor, but exhausting. We were just running on adrenaline.”
Since he is in good health and enjoys a steady stream of customers, many people wonder why Martino and his mother are selling the restaurant. The answer is that with no children or interested family members to take over, he doesn’t want the recipes and traditions of Martino’s to cease. Martino hopes for a smooth transition, during which he would work with the new owners.
“We know that when the time is right, the right person will come along,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity for someone. We are old-fashioned – we do everything by phone. This place has a lot of potential for someone who can keep up with trends like online ordering. I still enjoy going in every day, but I want to have the foresight to make sure Martino’s is around for future generations.”
Martino’s Italian Villa is located at 1929 North Washington Street in Kokomo. For more info, call 765-457-9181 and visit martinositalianvilla.net.