Walk into Mondo’s, a bright and cheery Italian restaurant that just reopened on Brookside, and the first thing you’ll see is the photographs. There are more than 100 of them, in solid dark wood frames, as five generations of the Aloisio family proudly stare from the walls. Some wear US Army uniforms studded with medals; other photos capture family outings to long-gone restaurants.
“That’s my mother’s parents,” says Louis Aloisio, pointing to a distinguished couple on the north wall. She has her arm around him. They look very content. Louis, scion of the family, spry and wiry and almost 80 years old, knows them all. Without them, there would be no Mondo’s.
Four generations of Aloisios have worked at Mondo’s. Louis grew up in a poor but vibrant Italian neighborhood in Depression-era Cleveland; his boyhood idea of a big splurge was to take a two-cent trolley to a Cleveland Browns football game and hope to get a free seat at halftime. His father was a chef at the prestigious Statler Hotel. “Cooking was in my blood,” says Louis. And so, in 1969, only two years after he came to Tulsa to work for CITGO, he decided it was time for a change. He raised $22,000, and that’s what it cost to open Mondo’s. Both his parents came to Tulsa to train the cooks. Then, as now, every entree served in Mondo’s is made from an Aloisio family recipe.
Louis’ father came from San Pio delle Camere, an impossibly picturesque 1,000-year-old village high in the hills of Abruzzi. His wife’s parents hailed from Naples, and both spent most of their lives in the various Little Italys of the U.S. Northeast. The recipes reflect all of this.
“My mom’s family gave the ravioli,” says Louis. “The clams” – big chunks of meat sautéed in a rich buttery sauce and served over linguini – “came from my father; much of our food is Napoletano, from my wife’s family, and the sauces are from both sides. I can’t remember who did which.”
“Don’t forget the pizza,” says his son, Rob. He’s subbing for the pizzaiolo today, and he’s hot and dusted with flour (which, incidentally, is imported from Naples) from the old wood-burning oven. Rob is proud to do it. It takes skill to run that oven. If you don’t shift the pie exactly the right way every 45 seconds, it’s ruined. “I’m the best pizza maker here,” Rob says, and he certainly has the experience. He started working in Mondo’s when he was 12 years old.
Three of the chefs are veterans of the old Mondo’s – the employees felt part of the family, and many of the old managers and waiters returned – and the others are graduates of culinary institutes. Most cooking school grads want to modernize the food, make it more artistic, says Louis, but “we train them not to. You’re getting our family recipes unchanged.”
“Family” and “unchanged” are the key words behind Mondo’s success. Mondo’s lasted almost 30 years in its old south Tulsa location, and half of Tulsa, it seems, cherishes childhood memories of lazy family dinners there. All thought that these memories, like their childhood, were lost forever. But now, magically, the past has been recaptured and they can go back again.