The First Families of Houston Food: Why We Eat the Way We Eat in H-Town

damicos2.jpg
Photo courtesy D'Amico's
Nash D'Amico and his daughter, Brina.
The D'Amicos/Mandolas/Petronellas
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.

tonyandphyllis0.jpg
Photo by Geri Maria Harris
Tony Mandola and his wife, Phyllis.
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.

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.

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Photo by Mai Pham
Paul Petronella stands in his namesake restaurant, Paulie's.
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.

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.


Location Info

Churrascos

2055 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Americas Restaurant

2040 W. Gray St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Amazon Grill

5114 Kirby Drive, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Damian's Cucina Italiana

3011 Smith St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Mandola's Deli

4105 Leeland, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Pappasito's

6445 Richmond, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Ciao Bello

5161 San Felipe St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Tony's Restaurant

3755 Richmond Ave., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Pappas Burger

5815 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Vallone's

800 Gessner, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Yia Yia Mary's Greek Kitchen

4747 San Felipe, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen

2525 S. Loop W., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Molina's Cantina

4720 Washington Ave., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Pappas Seafood

3001 S. Shepherd Drive, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Tony Mandola's Gulf Coast Kitchen

1212 Waugh Dr., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Paulie's

1834 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Laurenzo's

4412 Washington, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

El Tiempo Cantina

3130 Richmond Ave., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Camerata at Paulie's

1834 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Ninfa's

2704 Navigation Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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25 comments
jberlat1
jberlat1

Never been a fan of Molina's. 

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

Interesting that this article comes out roughly a few weeks after I had suggested it to someone...


Thankfully you didn't go nearly as deep into it as I plan to.

fidelio
fidelio

You overlook the Lebanese and Middle Eastern folks: Droubi brothers, Jamails, Dimassis etc...

james.brock
james.brock

Thanks to all the readers who have weighed in with their comments and stories about the rich histories of the many families whose hard work and efforts helped make Houston the fine food city it is today. Their legacies are rich and make for some great reading, and are sure to inspire the food families of the future.

In addition, a call to McDonald's tells us that there are 264 locations of the fast-food chain in the Houston area.

robokat
robokat

I think it's worth mentioning The Grocers Supply family aka.,The Levits and their son Benjy Levit...the owner of Benjy's.

tibare
tibare

I really, really miss PAPPAS GRILL that was on the feeder of 59 in Meadows Place.  They had the best food, salad bar and were very popular for their Sunday breakfast brunch !  I wish that they would open another one.



WestSideBob
WestSideBob topcommenter

I do miss the old Frankie B's on Kirby and their Chicken Parm.  Mandola's Deli does the best Italian Beef in Houston.  ( BTW ... I'm not related to anyone in the family )

SusanDS
SusanDS

I'll go back even further. Never mentioned  George Dentler's Pier 21. Started in 1938 and purchased by Ellis Dentler of Dentler Maid (Dentler Potato chips) as an investment because he loved to eat there, Passed away in 1948 which left my dad, George Dentler to start his career in one of the finest seafood restaurants in the city of Houston.It was located at the corner of Fannin and Braeswood across from the Oiler practice field. We had the first lobster tank in the city.It is nice to see a picture of Ninfa, she was such a fine lady and business woman. My brother Hank is also a St. Thomas Alum. Start researching back and you will be surprised of how much influence the restaurant industry in Houston not only had on the foods we enjoy today but how important they were to the social scene back in the day. Keep up the good work. Susan


SusanDS
SusanDS

I'll go back even further. Never mentioned  George Dentler's Pier 21. Started in 1938 and purchased by Ellis Dentler of Dentler Maid (Dentler Potato chips) as an investment because he loved to eat there, Passed away in 1948 which left my dad, George Dentler to start his career in one of the finest seafood restaurants in the city of Houston.It was located at the corner of Fannin and Braeswood across from the Oiler practice field. We had the first lobster tank in the city.It is nice to see a picture of Ninfa, she was such a fine lady and business woman. My brother Hank is also a St. Thomas Alum. Start researching back and you will be surprised of how much influence the restaurant industry in Houston not only had on the foods we enjoy today but how important they were to the social scene back in the day. Keep up the good work. Susan

timblack2
timblack2 topcommenter

*so close* to being your first good article but leaving out the Carrabas? C'mon!

And if you think there are only 25 McDonald's here, you are high. There are probably that many in lil ol' Corpus Christi but not here. I can think of 4 alone on Westheimer west of the Galleria going toward Hwy6. No way there are just 25.

Good try, though. Keep at it.

MissusCrabby
MissusCrabby

Not only did you not mention Vincent (Uncle Bubba) Mandola, but you did not mention the Carrabba's or Lampasas's whom are related and have fantastic resturants.

Erik Vidor
Erik Vidor

A little surprised the Goodes didn't make it as well.

Lanette Kowis
Lanette Kowis

Great article but the Carrabba's should have been mentioned along with the Mandolas. They are related as well and have a strong presence in the restaurant business in Houston.

Alex Botti
Alex Botti

How do you write that article and not mention the Goodes?

CR250
CR250

You did not mention Vincent Mandola and how he and Tony and their wives opened Nino's  in 1977???  Now we have Vincent's, Nino's, Grappino, Pronto...brother of Tony and Damian

Noteables to mention, Felix Tijerina - Felix Mexican Restaurant, Leo Reynosa and sons- Leo's

fangard
fangard

Big fan of all of the famiies and related to one of them. Your reference to McDonald's in Houston may be a typo though. There are over 250 McDonald's in the Houston area. great piece. Love the blog.

kellie_1221
kellie_1221

@SusanDS my name is kellie dentler. George was part of my family,, would love to talk more. you can email me at kellie_1221@yahoo.com i am looking for items from the potato chip factoy and/or pier 21. just pictures are fine... thank you.

james.brock
james.brock

@timblack2  

Thanks to all the readers who have weighed in with their comments and stories about the rich histories of the many families whose hard work and efforts helped make Houston the fine food city it is today. Their legacies are rich and make for some great reading, and are sure to inspire the food families of the future.

In addition, a call to McDonald's tells us that there are 264 locations of the fast-food chain in the Houston area.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

I polled a number of people in Houston's culinary world for their opinions, and the Goodes and Carrabbas never came up. I think both are worth a mention later on though. Thanks!

timblack2
timblack2 topcommenter

@KaitlinS @timblack2  Yes i saw it. Obviously a glitch/limit in their search results on their site,. Common sense would have told you there are obviously more and to perhaps look at a second source to confirm. 


Anything you put in only results in 25 locations.


Lookie here. Apparently only 25 in New York City, too.

http://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en/restaurant_locator/restaurant_locationsresults.html?country=us&method=search&language=en&primaryCity=new+york+city&postalCode=


Seriously though. Nice try.




KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@timblack2 @KaitlinS I see your point, and I'll amend the article to reflect that. But just so you know, your comments hold the same weight without all the condesension. Just a thought.

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