New Orleans is well known for its legacy restaurant families. And now, just across the Mississippi River in Gretna, the Mandina clan is poised to claim its own place in our culinary pantheon. On this week’s show, we meet three generations of family who have made Tony Mandina’s a Westbank culinary institution.
We begin with the restaurant’s namesake founder and his wife Grace Blanchard Mandina. Having no prior experience in the business, the couple ran the restaurant with help from members of their extended family. Grace shares stories of some pitfalls and laughs in those early days, when the ragtag team found themselves having to make it up as they went along.
The Mandinas’ Sicilian roots make their story a particularly rich and delicious one. We learn about the family’s history, which can be traced back to Salaparuta, a town in southwest Sicily. Tony recounts the first time he met his aunts in the Old Country in 1960. Ever since then, the family has maintained a connection to their family across the Atlantic, even forging new relationships with distant cousins, resulting in an import/export business.
Tony and Grace’s three daughters began working in their parents’ restaurant as children. In 2020, middle daughter Kolette Mandina-Ditta took over the reins of Tony Mandina’s, along with her daughter Lindsey Marcel. Both of them join us in the studio to discuss growing up in the restaurant, and Kolette describes what motivated her to write “Tony Mandina’s Kitchen,” a new book featuring a collection of family history and recipes.