August 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of Lombardo’s restaurant, still ensconced in the Mercato building on Commercial Drive at 1st Avenue. When it opened it was Vancouver‘s first authentic wood-fired pizza oven, and with Expo ’86 on the go, the timing was good. Since then a few changes have taken place, including a nice renovation three years ago, but the heart and soul remain unchanged, unfazed.
“I really didn’t know that much about the restaurant business, but I knew how to work hard and put in the hours,” says owner Patti Lombardo. “And in the early days, it was a lot of hours. A labour of love.” Her business partner at the time, and her husband, is now both her ex-partner and her ex-husband. “That was a very difficult time, on a personal level, but I don’t recall it hurting the business that much,” she says.
These days it is not only the matriarch, but all three of her daughters, who make the place hum. “Something in the water, I guess,” says the youngest, Sonia. “Three girls, and all bitten by the restaurant bug.” Sonia takes care of accounting and is known to help out with service from time to time. “It’s not my best attribute, but I love to pitch in,” she says. The eldest, Liz, runs the front of house, and of course serves more than her share of tables as well. “I love the work, and how passionate so many of our guests are,” she explains. “Some have ordered the same thing for over 20 years, others like to try anything new that Giulia has on the menu.” Giulia is the chef, having learned her trade in such places as Wolfgang Puck’s CUT at 45 Park Lane in London. “I learned so much there, from chef Puck, and one thing he always told us was that the best restaurant is one in which the people all share the same vision, like a family,” Giulia says. “So this is perfect: a restaurant where we are both a restaurant family, and a real family!”
The pizza dough, the pastas, everything is done in house, by hand. “We had the greatest pasta machine when we opened,” Patti says. “Finally, one day, someone said to me, ‘That machine has given you 25 years of service. Maybe it is time to give that one a rest.’” She laughs loudly, and adds: “We didn’t actually replace it, though. We just replaced some of the important parts. Still a great machine.” This is certainly one case in which, when the originator finally retires, she can rest comfortable in the knowledge that the business is in great hands.
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