Via Maestra 42, a North State Italian restaurant and deli, is serving its authentic Italian favorites under new ownership. Well, somewhat new.
The restaurant’s now-retired owner Renato Moisio wasn’t going to let his legacy go to just anyone, so he called someone the restaurant’s regulars are likely to remember.
Nicole Bitar worked as Via Maestra 42’s general manager nearly 22 years ago, when the business was new.
She helped Mr. and Mrs. Moisio launch their ideas, and she fell in love with the business.
During a trip to see her mom in Houston a few years later, she met and married her husband Georges Bitar. (They met at an Italian restaurant, by the way.)
She was unable to return to Santa Barbara until around nine years ago, bringing her Italian husband and two sons (now three).
Returning to Via Maestra 42, with her family, is a “full-circle moment,” she told the News-Press.
The restaurant has always given her a sense of community. When tragedy struck on 9/11, people from the surrounding stores gathered at the tables to talk and cope.
She says all the regulars are nearly the same as 20 years ago, and she remembers their favorite orders.
Mr. Bitar shares his wife’s enthusiasm for Via Maestra 42. He enjoyed relaxing and eating at the restaurant multiple times per week.
“I fell in love with this place because of how traditional it is. It just reminded me of places I went to when I was growing up,” he told the News-Press. “Whether it’s the shape of the bread, the sauce in the recipe, the coffee, the seasonings, the espresso. I mean, just everything was right to me.”
He even bought Christmas gifts for the staff — unaware that he’d be their boss one day.
The Bitars are keeping everything the same: the staff, the food, the marinara that simmers for hours, the rich espresso.
They even are preserving the thank-you notes written to Mr. Moisio that hang above the doorway and a large picture of Mr. Moisio’s father.
Mr. Moisio retired to enjoy time with family, but the Bitars expect to see him around. And they like it that way.
“This is his baby. And so it was never for sale,” Mrs. Bitar said. “But he offered it to us if we wanted it, and there was no way we could say no. I mean, this is an amazing opportunity.”
Their goal is to keep running the business like Mr. Moisio did.
“I really believe Nicole and Georges’s enthusiasm, outgoing personality, creativity and experience are the perfect fit for Via Maestra 42. Together with our loyal, top-notch staff, they will continue to provide the same standards, high-quality products and serve the same tasty dishes people have been enjoying,” Mr. Moisio wrote in an email to friends.
Mrs. Bitar says the transition seems to feel right for both sides of the legacy.
She also wants to maintain the restaurant’s pattern of focusing on details and elevating customer experience.
“We hope to keep bringing things up a notch all the time,” she said. “We really want to focus on service. We want people to really feel warm and have our presence here all the time.”
All three of the Bitar sons want to help out at the restaurant — perhaps motivated by the gelato.
“I want to be that guy that recognizes somebody if they come in twice and have a smile on my face and really give them a good table,” Mr. Bitar said.
Via Maestra 42 is open 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. The restaurant serves three meals a day at 3343 State Street in Santa Barbara.