Casa Mia in Highland to close
After 40 years in business, Luigi Mazella, owner of Casa Mia Restaurant on Rte. 9W in Highland, has decided to retire. His 6,500-square-foot establishment and a 915-square-foot farm stand will be razed to make way for a new Sawyer Savings Bank, to be built on the site this year.
The new branch bank will be 4,185 square feet and will have one drive-up teller lane and another designated for an ATM. There will be improvements made, such as a paved parking area, site lighting, a Dumpster enclosure, additional landscaping and concrete sidewalks.
The project has been before the Planning Board for some months and a public hearing on the project is scheduled for 7 p.m. on March 28 at Town Hall. Members of the Planning Board and Building Department Director Dave Barton have praised the proposed bank project; predicting it will be aesthetically pleasing and a positive economic addition to the community.
In 1973, Mazella was fresh out of the service when in September of that year, he and two brothers-in-law opened Casa Mia. Twenty years ago he bought them out and has run it ever since.
Mazella said his decision to retire was driven by a desire to spend more time with his wife and to enjoy the simple pleasures of being with his own grown children and grandchildren.
Mazella said he wants to return to his home country of Italy for an extended visit, rather than for a whirlwind trip as he has done in the past. He said attending the theater is another goal.
“I have a stack of tickets to the theaters but we never get the chance to go because I am always working,” he said. “I think I am going to start using some of those tickets.”
Without a pause, Mazella said it is his customers who have made his work rewarding. “It’s nice when I walk down the street, hi Luigi, it’s very homey,” he said. “You feel like they’re part of the family.” He said several generations have come to his restaurant and he has hosted engagement parties, weddings, and even memorial “last send-off” dinners for loved ones at his establishment.
Mazella was born on the island of Ischia in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Naples and his wife, Maria Fascelli, is from Monte Procida, a village nearby on the mainland. Mazella said he met his future wife on a bus while visiting relatives in Monte Procida.
“She was a very pretty girl, so I got a little bit excited; she went by me and we’re both going in the same direction and we were going to the same house. She is my brother-in-law’s niece,” he said. The couple was married in Italy and first came to Marlborough after sponsorship by an uncle who lived there. Mazella attended Marlborough High School and later Dutchess Community College. His military service began at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island and culminated at Fort Hamilton, near the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, both in New York City.
Mazella said he put the restaurant up for sale on the “silent market” and his agent received interest from Sawyer Bank. He said he is glad there will be a bank on the site.
“I don’t think I could drive by here and see another restaurant,” he said, adding that he hopes the actual closing happens “sooner rather than later.”
Mazella offered his heartfelt thanks to his wife, Maria, for her unending support through the years and also to the residents of Highland and the surrounding communities for their devotion of 40 years.
“I couldn’t be in the position I am now if it wasn’t just Highland, but New Paltz and Poughkeepsie. They’re the ones who paid my bills, really,” he said. “I can honestly say that my wife and I gave our best, our hearts, to what we do.”
Mazella said his favorite dish is called “fig gnocchi,”and claims it is not native to Italy but instead he calls it “native to Luigi.” When ripe, he uses figs he collects from his four fig trees that are on the property, mixes them with flour and eggs and tops it all with a creamy mushroom sauce.
“Believe it or not, it’s great and the customers appreciate it. As soon as I make it they disappear; they’re gone,” he attests. “I enjoy making it and I enjoy the response the customers give me.”
The tradition of running a restaurant carries on in the family: Mazella’s daughter and son-in-law, Imma and Golan Chitrit, run a kosher pizzeria in New York City called “Noi Due” –translation: “Us Two”; son Onorino (spouse Danielle) runs a pizzeria in New Paltz and his other son Gingiuseppe (spouse Carla) works for Coke in their research department.
Mazella said the feeling is a bittersweet one among his children on the closing because they all grew up in the restaurant; however they are pleased that their parents are now going to have more time to themselves and for their family.
Mazella said his recipe for success is a simple one.
“People are surprised I’ve lasted this long but if you give them their money’s worth, they will keep coming back,” he said.
By MARK REYNOLDS