|Lombardo's Restaurant Celebrates 30 Years on the Drive|
|Written by Kristina Matisic|
With skyrocketing real estate prices and a somewhat fickle customer base, few Vancouver restaurants can boast a marriage of quality, affordability and longevity. One restaurant that has endured and thrived is Lombardo’s Pizzeria and Ristorante, Commercial Drive’s original wood oven pizzeria. Set to celebrate its 30th anniversary this summer, Lombardo’s is still serving its award-winning Napolateanastyle thin-crust pizza and traditional Italian pasta dishes, just like mamma used to make.
Except here, mamma has a lot of help from her three daughters.
“I don’t know of many other restaurants in Vancouver that keep things all in the family quite like we do,” says owner Patti Lombardo. “I’m just happy that my girls not only want to continue to spend so much time at the restaurant, but also with me and with each other.”
On the cusp of this milestone, Lombardo’s remains a restaurant for families, run by a family of tight-knit women who have a passion for food, community and kin.
The eldest daughter Elizabeth (31) is the manager, 20-year-old Sonia helps with frontof-house, bartending and marketing, while 27-year-old Giulia is the head chef, whipping up Italian specialties since the age of five.
“Our secret sauce here really is family. We love what we do, we love that we get a chance to do this as a unit, and we know this comes across through the food we prepare and the ambiance we create,” says matriarch and restaurant owner Patti Lombardo.
The restaurant opened in the summer of 1986, a busy time in the city with the increase in tourism due to Expo ’86. At that time, Lombardo says owning a restaurant was not something she aspired to, let alone had any experience in.
“The very first day, I was working out front, as a waitress, and I served soup with my thumbs in it. That’s how inexperienced I was! The guy I served still comes in and reminds me of it,” says Lombardo.
Much larger struggles were to follow, including Lombardo’s well-publicized divorce that saw her ex-husband open his own competing pizzeria just down the street. At that point, Lombardo had aspirations of going back to school, but family responsibilities kept her tied to the business.
“Because I had the kids, I had a big financial burden right off the bat. Doing something else then wasn’t really an option. I worked seven days a week, for years. It wasn’t until Elizabeth got her driver’s license and could drive herself home after a waitressing shift that I got my first night off.”
Lombardo’s daughters have always gravitated to the restaurant, first as a second home, then as an after school job, and today, as a career. When the lease was coming up about 8 years ago, it was family meeting time and all four women committed to working together to maintain and grow the business.
“It’s a good business to be in. We like it and we’re good at it. We make a good team,” says daughter Elizabeth.
The women credit some of their success to the familial atmosphere, but Lombardo is quick to add that it is the traditional recipes and quality of food that keeps customers returning, decade after decade.
“We probably gave them their first good pizza in Canada, because no one was making that kind of pizza in the 80s and 90s. We’re also about consistency. They come back after 20 years and the Number 7 pizza still tastes like the Number 7 pizza.”
While some of the menu items have remained the same, the way business is done has definitely changed. Gone are the days when an ad placed in the local newspaper was all it took to draw customers. And with the number of quality pizzerias mushrooming in the city, competition is decidedly fierce.
“We have had to evolve, definitely. That’s why it was so important when we decided the girls are going to stay because I needed a new guard,” says Lombardo. “It was time for some fresh energy.”
The evolution has included some creative marketing tactics and a focus on social media to reach new audiences who may be unfamiliar with this gem, tucked away on the corner of 1st and Commercial Drive. It may not be the ideal location, lacking a storefront that looks out onto the street, but one that does hold a clear advantage: a wood burning pizza oven, grandfathered in before the city increased regulations on wood-burning appliances. “Gas ovens do make good pizzas, but wood is still the best,” says Lombardo.
Going forward, Lombardo remains tightlipped about any plans for expansion, although she is clearly looking forward to the day when she can step away completely, leaving the family business to her daughters.
And as for advice to those looking to get into the restaurant business, “always have a plan B,” says Lombardo with a laugh.
Located at 1st and Commercial Drive, Lombardo’s is open 7 days a week. For more information, please contact 604-251-2240 or go to Lombardos.ca.