The History Behind the Maestri Business
The history behind the Maestri business all started in 1904 at the Tontitown Grape Festival. It was the year Mary Ritter, an Irish Girl, met Aldo Maestri, an Italian. Aldo and Mary lived with his parents Pietro and Milania Maestri during their younger years. Mary not only learned about being married, she also learned how to cook great authentic Italian food. After a poor grape harvest in 1923, they started to serve meals in their home. Mary did the cooking and Aldo made the wine. Customers didn’t seem to mind the reservation only policy, or the long drive into the country. Think about all you can eat homemade pasta, bread and fresh chicken for a mere .75 cents per person.
After several years without a telephone, a local man named Bryan Work received calls for Mary and “dropped the reservations from his airplane” into her yard! This was true innovation for the time. So how many chickens do you think she caught and cleaned by hand? Well, it was enough that when businessmen like Jon Tyson and C.L. George started processing chickens, she was one of their buyers. It was hard work, great food, great customer service and faith in God that caused the family business to survive and prosper.
In 1947, Mary and Aldo moved to and expanded facility. They started working with Edward Maestri, their son. Ed added tremendously to the family tradition. He pioneered new ways of packaging food, created a large scale food production facility along with many methods and procedures that are still used today by Jordan. Ed had a personality second to none. He was a genius that was way ahead of his time. He was also involved in many civic activities, as well as instrumental in Republican politics in Arkansas. In just a few short years Ed invented and built machines to roll and cut pasta and large drying racks to complete this taxing process for Mary’s famous spaghetti noodles. The demand was now just too much to roll pasta dough with a rolling pin and cutting it with a knife. In 1951, Ed started selling Mary’s spaghetti and meat sauce in a frozen package through grocery stores. At that time the only frozen food in the stores was frozen strawberries. Ed worked with Gilbert Swanson on some products in those early days.
When Aldo passed away in 1959, it was a tough time for all. Mary retired in the 60’s and Ed made the business grow while he added new items to the menu. In 1968, he started to teach his son, Daniel Maestri, the business. In 1977, Edward at the age of 64 died suddenly. The business suffered a great loss and so did the family. Mary was 89 years old and still lived in the restaurant facility. Daniel, at the age of 22 started to manage the business and learn from his grandmother. They worked together until Mary, an American icon and pioneer, died at the age of 92 in 1980. This was the biggest setback, so far, for the business. After all, it is hard to replace a legend. It’s ironic that Mary used to say, “I’m just someone else in the Big Parade.” However, people from all around the area had fallen in love with the place. Instead of closing the business, Daniel built a new building in late1980, since the old home was structurally unsafe.
The business was growing at a rapid pace. Then in the early 80’s due to 20% plus interest rates and Daniel’s inexperience in business, the restaurant fell on difficult days. The young Maestri struggled financially for the next 10 years, to the extent of going through Chapter 11 reorganization. Yet hanging on with the same determination of his ancestors and applying what he had learned from them, the business survived... The customers were loyal and there were many friends that had faith and found a way to help. Willard and Pat Walker’s involvement was pivotal to the continued success of this great tradition. Daniel created additional menu items and brought the restaurant to a new level of quality and service.
Due to some financial difficulties from the recession starting 2008, the Maestri Business was facing yet another difficult time, the Restaurant location in Tontitown was forced to close in May of 2010 from the actions of certain creditors. Daniel is still in the legal process of protecting the family’s image and getting justice for the business. In January of 2011, the Maestris converted a small storage room in a leased space, and kept the tradition alive. "In August 2012 we re-opened in Springdale. Mary Maestri’s Italianao Grillroom. Third and fourth generations are working together, Daniel’s three sons are now involved in the business, two had worked there before and learned a great deal about the food business. After less than two years the three sons left to try something different. Daniel, Mary’s Grandson continues to persevere and keep the family tradition alive. So here we are after 91 years in what people say is one of the hardest, most complex businesses there are. It seems appropriate that Mary used to say “something good always comes out of something bad.” The food, service and atmosphere that Mary herself would be proud of, are still bringing people back for more. Serving people with pleasure and seeing their satisfaction is our reward. That is what Mary Maestri’s is all about. In fact, our story is what the Lord God made life all about… the bonds of family, serving others and the tradition of excellence!
We are pleased to have you visit our family business and hope you have an enjoyable experience!"