The First Families of Houston Food: Why We Eat the Way We Eat in H-Town
Photo courtesy D'Amico's Nash D'Amico and his daughter, Brina.
It's one big Italian family of restaurateurs and chefs! Since coming to the United States, various members of the family have been involved in the food industry in one way or another, from Tony Mandola's grandfather, who was a grocer during World War I, to Nash D'Amico, who has been operating restaurants for the past four decades.
In an article published in the Austin Chronicle, Frankie B. Mandola recalls growing up in his family's Houston grocery store, where the women would get together in the back kitchen and cook up traditional Italian meals for 50 or 60 people. Frankie B.'s cousin, Frank A. Mandola, eventually turned the grocery store into Mandola's Deli, which is still open on Leeland Street in East Downtown.
D'Amico opened his first restaurant, Damian's Fine Italian Food, in Huntsville in 1975 with his cousins, Tony and Damian Mandola, who had borrowed $2,000 from relatives to make the pizzeria a reality. The success of Damian's encouraged the cousins to move to Houston, where D'Amico opened D'Amico's Ristorante Italiano in 1977 and the Mandolas opened Tony Mandolaʼs Blue Oyster Bar in 1982.
From 1983 to 1992, D'Amico opened four restaurants, all called Nash D'Amico's Pasta & Clam Bar: one in Rice Village, one on Westheimer, one in Galveston and one in Clear Lake. During this time, Damian Mandola and his cousin, Frankie B., opened Damian's Cucina Italiana and Tony Mandola opened Tony Mandola's. Both Mandola restaurants remain open today.
Photo by Geri Maria Harris Tony Mandola and his wife, Phyllis.
D'Amico reconfigured his empire in 1996, though. He decided he wanted to spend more time with his family, so he closed the Pasta & Clam Bars and created D'Amico's Italian Market and Cafe, which remains a Rice Village fixture.
It was around this time that the Petronella's came in. Paul Petronella remembers spending a lot of time as a child in the kitchens of his cousin, Nash D'Amico. These early years in a kitchen setting instilled in him a desire to be a part of the restaurant industry.
Photo by Mai Pham Paul Petronella stands in his namesake restaurant, Paulie's.
In a chef chat, Petronella described this period of his life:
"Nash D'Amico and my two uncles, Charles and Frank Petronella, owned this full-service Italian restaurant on Westheimer near Kirby. So I've just always been around that kitchen scene. Dad would always come home smelling like the kitchen. Then, my parents opened this place, Paulie's, in 1998."
Paulie's is now a popular Italian restaurant that draws crowds of industry professionals who know they're going to get a great Italian meal out of Petronella's kitchen. Last year, Petronella opened the wine bar Camerata at Paulie's, expanding his empire beyond Italian food.
This story continues on the next page.