Maria Di Rende grew up in Belmont, but never in her wildest dreams imagined she would one day be operating her own restaurant.
Today, the mom of five daughters runs Enzo’s at 2339 Arthur Avenue in Little Italy.
With March being Women’s History Month, the Bronx Times convinced Di Rende to remove her apron and chat with us about her success.
She and her late husband, Enzo opened the eatery in 2005, as a café with 40 seats. But three years ago the husband and wife team expanded it and has now grown it to be one of the most popular restaurants on Arthur Avenue, seating 200 patrons.
Enzo’s is oftentimes listed in ‘Where to Dine’ guides for those visiting Little Italy in the Bronx.
“I definitely feel proud, especially proud for my husband because this was his vision,” Di Rende said.
The food business is in her blood. Her father Nick owns Calabria Pork Store at 2338 Arthur Avenue and Enzo’s father owned a local shop as well.
Her family has been in Belmont many years. Her grandparents lived in the apartment building that is attached to the restaurant and Enzo’s original kitchen was once Di Rende’s great-grandmother’s apartment.
She got married young – at 19. While she stayed home and took care of the kids, Enzo attended the Culinary Institute of America. After mastering his craft, the duo eventually opened the restaurant.
“My husband had the vision of wanting to have people come to eat,” she said.
Over the years, it became a popular place in the neighborhood, well known for its classic Italian dishes and ingredients from their red sauce to pork chops to their fried meatballs with hot peppers and onions.
Sadly, a year after the restaurant expanded her husband passed away from prostate cancer.
Suddenly, she was left a widow, with five kids to raise and a business to run.
She didn’t have her husband’s culinary background so juggling the responsibilities of running Enzo’s and her home life was not easy at first.
“It’s hard, but I have a lot of support,” she said. “I do it be because it’s the right thing to do.”
According to Di Rende, the biggest adjustment was learning the ins and outs of the kitchen. She needed to understand what to order and how much and how to communicate with the chefs.
Seating and greeting people is one thing, but managing the kitchen is whole other ballgame, she emphasized.
But, more importantly, her staff has really been helpful. Through perseverence the staff has successfully maintained her late husband Enzo’s dream.
“It starts from inside our place,” she remarked. “We’re like family here.”
While it’s been tough to balance being a single mom and running a restaurant, she is doing her best. She still tries to cook the traditional family dinner every Sunday afternoon.
“It’s my way of life,” she commented. “I do it for my kids. In a way it’s like my kids lost both of their parents.”