Just Who Is Kate Mantilini Anyway?

That’s the question that every server is asked at the moment when they have three new tables, drinks to pickup at the bar, a table to crumb and dessert presentations to make.  Why is that exactly?  If it isn’t such bad timing, it’s just funny to the point of well, the server just walking out?  That’s a bit of an exaggeration but I do think the question is worth asking and the telling is good.

Kate Mantilini slept with my grandmother’s brother.  In other words, my grandmother’s brother, my great uncle.    That’s it!  Well, not really.  I’m told she was Irish and Italian and that she had a temper.  I’m also told that she dabbled in many entrepreneurial endeavors.  To say that in 2010 makes no one’s eyebrows rise but to say that she did this in 1940′s Cleveland, Ohio.  It’s an entirely different thing altogether.  Women just didn’t do that back then.

Among the activities she involved herself in, she dabbled in fight promoting, thus the beautiful mural painted in the restaurant (the subject of my next blogpost).  But here’s the most important part.  My mother, Marilyn Lewis, has been entrepreneurial her whole life.  She owned and operated a modeling studio as a teenager.  At 21 years old, she opened her first Hamburger Hamlet.  By the time she was 40, she was an internationally known dress designer:  Cardinali.  I believe that Kate Mantilini was just my mother’s kind of girl.  Her name is up in lights to pay homage to female entrepreneurs everywhere.


After I published my little piece about how altruistic it was of my mother to put Kate Mantilini’s name up in lights to bear witness to those who struggled mightily against the male dominated sexist business empire that was America in the 1940′s, I realized that I only told just part of the story.  Imagine my chagrin!

What my folks didn’t know in 1987 when the lights came on was that my grandmother (you know, the one whose brother slept with Miss Mantilini (“miss” back then, “Ms” today), was furious that her daughter would glorify this woman.  I mean, after all, she was sleeping with her brother.  I arrived on the scene in 1989 and having never ever heard of Kate in my whole life, I was pretty convinced this was just a made-up story.  There were a few of them roaming around growing up and this just seemed more of the same.  I knew I wasn’t going to get it straight from my folks so I approached my sweet, loving grandmother and I asked, “Gramma, did Kate Mantilini really ever exist?”

My grandmother, Ruth, was a sweetheart to me my whole life and i loved her dearly but I also knew that if she didn’t like you, forget about it.  She could make a pretty mean enemy.  She started in on Kate and wouldn’t let go.  She called her a “shameless hussy”.  “Gramma, I said, do people really use that term “shameless hussy” anymore?”  “Well, I do!”, she said.

That did it for me.  Total complete verification that Kate was a real woman, scorned and hated by my sweet old grandmother and marketed intelligently by my mother.  Later on, maybe 8 years later, very near my grandmother’s death, I went back to her, wondering if at that time, she still remembered Kate Mantilini.  “Gramma”, I once again said, “do you remember Kate Mantilini”?  “Oh yes”, she replied.  “She was very nice”.

Gramma died soon thereafter.

About Kate Mantilini Restaurant