As business picked up at Leo’s Market, the grocery and meat store Leo and Fanny Mencoboni opened in 1946, Mrs. Mencoboni began running out of time to tend to household tasks. So, she resorted to preparing her family’s supper in the back room, methodically stirring the sauce that would envelop their spaghetti. But as the aroma of tomatoes, onions and garlic wafted to the front of Leo’s Market, the future of their business began to shift. The neighbors said they wanted whatever it was that Mrs. Mencoboni was cooking. It soon became clear that their market was destined to transform into a restaurant: La Cantina Italiana.
For decades now, La Cantina Italiana in Framingham has been dishing up customer favorites like chicken parmigiana, veal parmigiana and pizza — among many other Italian dinner options. The restaurant continues to be family-run and now is owned by Leo and Fanny’s son, Lee Mencoboni.
The restaurant’s motto is “Food is memories,” Lee Mencoboni explains. “When you’re around as long as we’ve been, you see families growing up,” he says. “There aren’t too many places like this around anymore.” Mencoboni’s daughter, Jen Mencoboni, who also works at the restaurant, adds: “There’s always a customer story. Whether it’s ‘I had my first date here’ or ‘I met my wife here.’ ”
The Mencoboni family has strong Hopkinton ties, too. Lee Mencoboni built one of the first houses on Valentine Road, and his children grew up in town. La Cantina Italiana also has become a popular place for Hopkinton sports teams to host dinners with specially priced all-you-can-eat options.
How has an independent restaurant like theirs lasted so long? “We have good food, good portions and good prices,” Lee Mencoboni explains. “Having 76 years in business proves that we have a quality product.” La Cantina Italiana also hosts special events like music bingo on Tuesdays and Trivia Night on Thursdays. Starting May 23, each Monday will be Cruise Night, featuring classic cars and food trucks.
La Cantina’s Sports Tent, an innovation prompted by the pandemic, will open soon. The climate-controlled tent features seven widescreen TVs, a sit-down bar and a full menu. The pandemic also prompted the launch of Fanny’s Lunch Truck, which features an array of sandwiches, salads and take-and-bake meal kits. Fanny’s famous dressings and sauces also are sold in stores across New England. “You’ll become addicted,” Jen Mencoboni raves about her grandmother’s recipes.
The food is key, of course, but Jen Mencoboni says what makes La Cantina Italiana “so wonderful” is the customers. “I know nearly everybody who walks through the door,” she says. “You get to know people, and they become like family.”
La Cantina Italiana, which currently has seven family members as employees, appears poised for many more years of success. Running a restaurant can be challenging, Jen Mencoboni acknowledges, “but the good outweighs those things in the long run,” she says. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
La Cantina Italiana is located at 911 Waverly Street, Framingham. For more information, visit golacantina.com or call 508-879-7874.
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