By Helen Ofield, Lemon Grove Historical Society
November 19, 2017 (Lemon Grove) -- The Lemon Grove Historical Society and the City of Lemon Grove will continue the Business Recognition Series by honoring Lido's Italian Foods on Dec. 5 at 6 p.m. at the city council meeting in the Community Center, 3140 School Lane, when Mayor Raquel Vasquez will present the restaurant's owners with a city proclamation, Miss Lemon Grove will present flowers, and an appreciative audience will take photos and applaud the business beloved in the town for 62 years.
Vi prego, datemi una forchetta! That's "Please, give me a fork!"
Forgive the shameless piggery. When we recently sat down with Elisabetta Simi, co-owner with her brother, Marco Simi, of Lido's Italian Foods, we could barely restrain ourselves, so aromatic were the fabled sauce, pizza, pasta, meatballs and more en route to a happy lunchtime crowd.
You're a fan. You regularly visit Lido's, 7252 Broadway, Lemon Grove, for food born in Lucca, Italy and redolent of Old World family recipes and methods. But do you know these facts?
Lido's was founded and opened on April 17, 1955 by the Nick Farella family, who named it for the famous, seven-mile Lido beach at Venice. Earlier, the Farellas had immigrated to Chicago to open a restaurant. In 1966, Angelo and Vilma Simi, with babies Elisabetta and Marco in tow, landed in Chicago to do likewise. These Lucchese families became fast friends.
But the Farellas, weary of Chicago's ghastly winter, headed to an uncle in San Diego, learned of a restaurant opportunity in teensy Lemon Grove, and history was made. After 23 years of running Lido's, the Farellas packed it in--but not before luring the Simis to the site in 1978. Angelo and Nick made the deal and the Chicken Florentine lived on.
Today, 40 years later, Angelo and Vilma are in their eighties--and Lido's is run by the second and third generations of Simis: Elisabetta, Marco and Elisabetta's two sons, Nicholas and Lucas. Marco's son is the godchild of Nick Farella, by the way.
You get the picture. This is a classic immigrant success story; a story of family ties and cultural identity in the promised land; a story of why mom-and-pop businesses are the backbone of this nation and this town -- after all, the Simis grew the business from a dozen employees in 1978 to three dozen in 2017, all locally hired and all loyal to the place. As Elisabetta noted, "You either leave the first week, or you stay forever."
Take André Villaverde, who got his first job at 15 at Lido's. He's still there 18 years later. And Martin Cedano, on deck for 29 years. Like every other member of Team Lido, they cook, serve, repair, run errands and keep the restaurant humming seven days a week, open for lunch, dinner and take-out until 11 p.m.
The day starts at 8 a.m. in the galley kitchen when the 10-burner industrial stoves and the four giant pizza ovens are fired up, the legendary sauce is prepared and simmered in huge pots, the slicer goes to work on stacks of salami, mortadella and cheeses, and the steaks, pork and chicken are cut and seasoned. The full bar and the menu wine and beer have expanded to include locally-sourced craft beers. The rear delivery door welcomes deliveries of fresh herbs, vegetables, fruits, meats and cheeses.
The Simis' motto is "never change, always add; enhance, don't change," hence their stellar reputation for consistently good food and the popular demand that expanded dinner-only to lunch and dinner, and a take-out business that never quits. Literally millions of customers, including a huge family clientele and famous names, have thronged the restaurant over nearly seven decades, all enjoying the patina of vintage décor, the cozy bar, the lobby displaying family photos and mementoes, the warmly attentive service, and the sense of being in the Old World and the New World at the same time.
Vi prego, datemi una forchetta. Molto bene. Grazie!