Sometimes you fight the law and the law wins. Other times, if you fight the planning board, with a little help from your neighbors, great new small businesses arise in Tewksbury.
Café Sicilia, located at 1300 Main St., is a success story that all food lovers should know about.
On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to sit down at Café Sicilia with its 57 year-old owner, Joseph Mazzola. Mr. Mazzola, who was born in Sicily, raised in East Boston and now makes his home in Tewksbury, has dreamt of owning his own café since he was a teenager. At that time, Joseph worked in various sub shops and bakeries around Eastie until he took a job as a mason. He worked construction for twenty-five years but his dream had always been to open up a cafe of his own.
That dream became a reality as six years ago he decided to buy a small building at 1300 Main St. and two years ago he started the proceedings with the town planning board.
Unfortunately, it wasn't as easy as he had hoped.
"I had to go in front of the planning board four times, got denied four times." What was the reason? "The objections were 'the place was too small, parking, signs, petty little things. They went hard on me because I'm a small business. I didn't have the big name," he said.
Luckily, Joseph Mazzola had a little help from his new neighbors and quite possibly the man upstairs.
"I got petitions from all the neighbors in the neighborhood. Had to go back with a lawyer, the lawyer told me 'Joe, you'll need a miracle to open up. The last time I went up (to the planning board) I said 'we have a miracle, the neighbors!'"
How could he ever thank the neighbors for their help?
"In return, I'm going to hire all the neighborhood kids to work here," he said.
Mr. Mazzola plans to make good on his promise as he expects seven or eight, 14-16 year olds to soon be working in his cafe.
If you're looking to find Café Sicilia, make sure you keep your eyes open. It is located in a nondescript white and red brick building on Route 38. There's a fairly large sign in front that says the name of the café, but it's easy to miss if you're driving too fast.
As we should never judge a book by its cover, one has to only step inside to feel like they've suddenly been transported back to the Old Country. Joe says that he modeled the café after ones he patronizes on his regular visits to Italy.
The Café is small; it only has three tables, a freezer, a counter and many pictures of Italy. There are two large windows that face the street so that patrons may watch the world go by as they sip their cappuccinos and eat their subs. Behind the café are a number of streets inhabited by the neighbors who aided him in his "miracle." Joe is confident that his café will be a great gathering place for those who want good food that is only a short walk away.
Joeseph Mazzola isn't completely alone in his venture. A young man who's worked with him in various respects over the last few years is also helping him with the new café. While Mazzola and I were chatting, East Boston native and current Haverhill resident, Joseph Noe, was testing out different ways of brewing cappuccinos. Every so often Joseph Noe would stop the both of us, bring over a cup and ask, "how does this taste?" Then the two would talk about adding more mix, less mix, more sugar, less sugar, more milk or less milk. Both Joes wanted to get the flavor just right.
Mazzola then offered me a taste of one of his specialties, a meatball sub with provolone cheese. The meatballs were delicious, the sauce was unbeatable (don't tell my grandmother), and the bread put Subway's to shame.
Then he offered me my first ever taste of the famous Italian treat, gelato. As someone who doesn't normally care for ice-cream, I had to prepare myself for the worst. Thankfully, I didn't need to! Joseph fed me two different flavors and I had a hard time deciding which one was better. The rich and creamy taste of the chocolate gelato has converted me as I plan to seek out more flavors of this Italian treat.
Through all the trials and tribulations he's had to endure in opening Café Sicilia, Joe remains confident. "When they hear about my place, there will be a line from here down the other end (of the walkway). That's how it was forty years ago."
Mazzola's plan to make money is both simplistic and logical in practice.
"Give the people what they want," he said.
Café Sicilia will have affordable prices and Joe intends on selling based on volume and quality. He has no plans to expand because he only wants to focus on the one location.
"Once there's too much, it takes the joy out of it," he said.
And the lifelong dream of owning a café would be pointless if he didn't enjoy what he was doing. Good luck Joe!
Cafe Sicilia will have its grand opening on Friday and Saturday, December 2-3. The café is open 9-9 daily.