EUCLID, Ohio — At Mama Catena Vino e’ Cucina, or Mama Catena’s, as it’s affectionately called, diners are not only served with a traditional Sicilian affair, but they’re also treated to heaping portions of warmth, hospitality and family.
The family behind the Italian restaurant in Euclid knows how unassuming their restaurant appears from the outside; tucked away at the end of a small strip mall in Euclid, not much about its façade screams an authentic Italian dining experience. But step through the doors, and it’s a different story.
“Our memories are all really based around a dinner table,” said Fran Lausin, reflecting on her family’s traditions of preparing meals and canning tomatoes, the way they have for generations.
Sisters Fran Lausin and Rina Catena are the self-proclaimed heartbeat, blood, sweat, and tears behind Mama Catena’s. The sisters do everything in the restaurant, from answering phones to preparing meals.
Their grandparents first came to America from Sicily, followed by their sister’s parents, Giuseppina and Francesco. Eventually, they settled in Ohio, planting roots and starting the restaurant in 1989.
“The American dream was to own your own business, so he started this business, and here we are,” said Rina of her father’s vision for the restaurant.
The sisters recall humble beginnings at the restaurant, which was initially a smaller space than it is today. Fran remembers a four-burner stove top and no ice machine. But through the years, the restaurant grew, with the family eventually expanding their space.
“They brought people together, so that’s what we try to do here,” said Rina. “We try to create memories and bring people together. Food and wine, what else do you need?”
The sisters have stayed true to their Sicilian roots, featuring dishes on their menu based on traditional family recipes. For example, one of their signature dishes, their roasted eggplant, isn’t breaded like you may see in other Italian restaurants. Instead, it’s prepared the way it’s been for generations of Catenas, simply roasted and stuffed with garlic, fontinella, and basil, on a bed of ricotta.
Their menu boasts other traditional Italian fairs like arancini, polenta, and pizza, while also allowing diners to customize their meals by inviting them to construct their ideal pasta dish.
For the more adventurous eaters, Rina will prepare the “Piatto orbo,” or blind plate, where she is able to surprise diners by selecting each course of their meal, even crafting special dishes that aren’t on the menu.
While today the restaurant stands as a proud homage to Sicilian cuisine, there was a time when its future wasn’t as bright. In May of 2017, the restaurant burned down, leaving the family heartbroken.
“I see a sea of police lights, fire engines, lights, and they wouldn't even let me through the traffic,” Rina recalled.
“The fire happened in an instant,” said Fran.
Despite the devastation, the family was determined to rebuild, steadfast in their commitment to their father’s vision.
“My dad and my mom started this, and we wanted to carry on their legacy,” the sisters said.
Those family memories and the ability to serve the community have always been at the heart of the mission for Giuseppina Catena, known as “mama.” Though her husband has passed away, the family still carries on the spirit of his restaurant.
“We were together 67 years. I can’t forget him,” said Giuseppina.
Today, Giuseppina can be found greeting guests or chopping garlic, doing her part to make each diner feel at home.
“Everybody comes for the food and for mama,” Giuseppina said.
The feeling of family is evident throughout the restaurant, which took a year to rebuild after the fire.
“They feel like they're at home, like they're at home and that they're welcomed and that they're appreciated,” said Rina.
Whether it’s the cannolis or a welcome smile from mama and her family, the Catenas are carrying on the Sicilian tradition, steeped in love.
“You come in as a guest, and you leave like family, an extended family,” said Rina.
“Something in these four walls, it just happens,” said Fran.
To view Mama Catena’s menu, click here.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The video above previously aired on 3News on Aug. 21, 2022.