There are likely few downtown workers who haven’t, at some point, made the trek to Mamma Teresa, a staple in Ottawa’s downtown core. In fact, when it comes to authentic Italian cuisine in the capital, while many might think of restaurants in Little Italy, many more might recommend Mamma Teresa.
The familiar red-brick restaurant at the corner of Somerset Street West and O’Connor Street was founded by Giuliano Boselli and his mother, “Mamma Teresa,” in 1970. Originally from the Italian city of Parma, they promoted their new restaurant’s food as authentic northern Italian cuisine and fostered an atmosphere of hospitality similar to that of their hometown.
Walter Moreschi was one of two longtime employees who took over the restaurant in 2008. Moreschi says while he began as a busboy in 1983, Boselli quickly promoted him to waiting tables, despite the fact he did not speak any French.
“On the third night (as a waiter), I grabbed a fork and asked the customer, ‘How do you say this in French?’ I maybe asked that a thousand times that night and I learned how to say it. The next night was another item,” Moreschi recalls. “Because we had repeat customers, they started asking me, ‘Walter, what do you want to know?’”
Moreschi had his first experience managing the operation in his sixth year, when Boselli went on his annual vacation to Florida.
“He was old school. He wouldn’t tell me, ‘Check this, check that,’ he just said look after everything, so it was trial and error,” Moreschi says. “I looked after the restaurant like it was my own.”
Though he says he lost sleep over the experience, he gained a love for the restaurant. When he and longtime co-worker Frank Schimizzi took over the business in 2008, he says it was much to the surprise of their customers.
“People thought I already owned the restaurant,” Moreschi laughs. “So it was a smooth transition for me and for them.”
Moreschi says the connections with customers, who have included politicians and celebrities, have always been crucial to Mamma Teresa’s success. He’s seen locals come on first dates and return as married couples with children, only for that second generation to return with partners of their own.
To maintain this environment, he encourages staff to greet customers they know, even if they aren’t waiting at those customers’ tables.
The restaurant also sources much of its produce from Italy, including certain cheeses and mushrooms, for a true Italian experience.
The Ottawa location can seat 200 people and often has a full house, according to Moreschi. He says head chef Joel Estebrooks is another reason the restaurant has flourished.
“He’s really a master chef. What he’s taught all of us is another level of cooking,” he says. “On New Year’s Eve, we give him carte blanche. The customers, every year they say, ‘Can you put this on the menu?’ but they’re not aware it takes us from morning to night to prepare the dishes.”
The continued success of the business encouraged the co-owners to open a second location in Chelsea, Que. in 2016. When the pandemic hit, they pivoted to takeout, which saw them working 16-hour days to make up for staffing shortages.
As the restaurant enters its 54th year and regains some stability post-pandemic, Moreschi says he’s reassured by the continued support of his customers.
“I cannot do something better because we’re doing our best now,” he says. “We have to keep that standard.”
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