By Marquita Brown of the Roanoke Times
Friday, November 17, 2006
Dominic Marletta is no stranger to the kitchen.
When he was a child, his parents would take him along when they worked in their restaurants in New Jersey. He was cooking pizzas when he was about 10 years old. He also was a kitchen manager for seven years.
"You put me in a new restaurant and I can walk through with my eyes closed," Marletta said.
It's no surprise that when he moved to Salem eight months ago, he returned to the kitchen. The 26-year-old soon will own one of the city's popular restaurants.
In August, Marletta began runningMama Maria's, which he co-owned with Fabio Scotto Di Carlo, who is moving back to Italy. Marletta now spends at least 12 hours a day there.
During restaurant hours, Marletta is the man answering the phone, opening the wine, greeting customers and running the cash register. He helps serve food when the restaurant is busy.
He doesn't mind the hard work.
Marletta said he was a D student in high school, but he went on to a community college and graduated with a 3.9 GPA. He then transferred to Seton Hall University in New Jersey and graduated with honors.
He said he worked 70 hours a week as a restaurant manager in college despite a weekly course load of 20 hours.
After graduating, he began working as a stockbroker, and said he liked his pay but didn't like sitting at a desk all day. "I guess I'm not an office person," Marletta said.
A friend invited Marletta to help run a restaurant in Miami, so he worked there until he was invited to work at Mama Maria's.
The people of Salem are friendly and the area is beautiful, Marletta said. The Blue Ridge Mountains also are a plus for Marletta, who said his passion is snowboarding. The area seems to be a nice place to raise a family, if he were to have one of his own, Marletta said.
Marletta was born in New Jersey to parents who came to America from Sicily. The family traveled to Italy every year.
His mother, Angela, his sister and nephew also moved to Salem. His father, Vito, sometimes works in the restaurant.
Marletta visited Salem several times before deciding to make the move. Mama Maria's allows him to make part of Salem his own.
As the owner, Marletta has a say in everything related to his restaurant, from the dishes served to the music played, which comes from his iPod.
He has added 55 wines to the Mama Maria's wine list. He's also added new Italian bottled drinks and S. Pellegrino water. He wants to expand the restaurant's menu to include more desserts, more fresh seafood dishes and non-pasta dishes such as stuffed pork chops. He also wants to improve the food presentation.
Marletta "has everything pretty much streamlined," said Ronald Mitchiner, 33, of Northeast Roanoke County.
"He's just on autopilot," Mitchiner said.
Mitchiner, a regular at Mama Maria's, had lunch at the restaurant Nov. 9 with his friend Michelle Williams, 35, of Washington, D.C.
That day, Marletta kept busy with the constantly ringing phone and the steady lunch crowd. He said he doesn't mind even the busiest days because he's doing something he enjoys.
He even works on Mondays, when the restaurant is closed.
"I'm always here, no matter what," Marletta said.