The experience at MAMA Oakland often begins with the “Legend.”
It arrives at the table along with the dinner menu. And upon its page is found icons and descriptions that solve one of dinner’s bigger mysteries. Specifically, what wine should we get?
Co-owner Stevie Stacionis explains.
“My husband (Josiah Baldivino) and I co-own a wine shop and bar a few doors down called Bay Grape. When we decided to open our restaurant we planned to have an extensive wine selection, and wanted our guests to have fun choosing wine without feeling intimidated.
“We couldn’t afford to have a full-time sommelier on the floor, but our wine list was of such a high caliber that my husband created a playful way of using graphics and descriptions to make wine selection fun.”
In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand blog Recipe for Success, Stevie tells us more about the Legend, the restaurant, and the game plan for success.
BB: How does the wine “legend” help the experience at MAMA Oakland?
MO: The legend precludes the need for a sommelier, and provides diners with visual references to help them easily decide what they want. Most diners know what they want in flavors. And our icons help them navigate our menu in the spirt of fun and adventure. We’ve created fun graphics to reflect the qualities of a wine. For example, a graphic of an old cassette tape is our symbol for a classic wine and our graphic of a fictitious animal is our symbol for a wild, natural and raw flavor profile. We have eight different symbols and each wine may have one or more graphics to describe its character.
BB: How did your wine store lead to creation of MAMA Oakland?
MO: We’ve owned Bay Grape for five years and built a strong and loyal clientele. Our shop is seen as a haven in the community. It’s a very vibrant neighborhood and our customers kept telling us that they wished we’d open a good Italian restaurant.
Because there were a good number of vacant storefronts in the neighborhood, it was not difficult to find a space a few doors down from the wine shop. We opened last summer and it’s been going great!
BB: What’s your niche?
MO: We’re a casual and approachable Italian restaurant built around the concept of my grandmother’s Italian kitchen. We use my family’s red sauce on many menu items, and it’s the embodiment of comfort and nourishment.
We serve a three-course prefix seven nights a week. And because the menu is set, we can plan our menus and expenses very precisely. And this makes it possible for us to deliver a high-value meal.
We’re in the Lake Merritt neighborhood of Oakland, which is a corridor densely packed residentially, but not commercially. So, our goal was to offer our clients a safe and welcoming place filled with laughter, fun and good, nutritious food.
BB: How did you and your husband get into the hospitality biz?
MO: We met working in a restaurants together. We both were finishing college degrees when we decided to participate in a wine-tasting trip that our restaurant manager put together for the staff. At the last minute, everyone dropped out but us. So we went. About 90 miles from home, my husband’s car broke down and we couldn’t get a ride until the next morning. We fell in love on that trip and the rest is history. My husband went on to work as a sommelier in New York City for a while, and I became a food and wine writer. Together, we worked for a long list of restaurants, retail establishments and publications before opening our wine shop five years ago. We named the restaurant after my grandmother, Maria Germano Stacionis, who immigrated from Italy to Illinois and was an amazing hostess.
BB: MAMA Oakland uses Boxerbrand’s Classic Line in its table presentation. Thank you!