A Kokomo staple, Martino’s Italian Villa, is for sale, but its owners hope to help ensure the restaurant’s legacy lives on should new owners take it over.
The restaurant, which has been owned and operated by the Martino family for 59 years, was listed for sale on Oct. 11 by the Wyman Group for $1.3 million. According to Mike Martino, co-owner, manager, and son of the original owners, Frank and Angela, while the family is to seeking to sell the business, they hope to stay on temporarily to train any new owners for a smooth transition.
“Basically, we want it to continue and keep going. Mom’s 84. I turned 60 in April. Not that I’m that old, but going from 50 to 60, it seemed like only a year. And we don’t have anybody behind us. There’s no family members to carry it on,” he said. “And I can’t see Kokomo without Martino’s. But as we get older, if something happens, it’ll be gone.”
Martino said that the family would rather be proactive to ensure a smooth transition, such as teaching recipes, in order to keep the restaurant up and running locally for future generations.
Martino’s originally opened as a doughnut shop and short-order restaurant in April 1962 on Phillips and Jackson streets. In 1962, the family bought North Star Tavern at North Street and Main Street and renamed it Martino’s Inn. They later expanded with another building, which they operated for seven years before building the present location at North Washington Street in April 1972.
According to owner Angela, the various iterations of Martino’s, from Inn to Italian Villa, expanded seating capacity from 21 seats to the current 275.
“We’ve had a very loyal and great clientele that weathered all the storms,” Angela said. “We were really, really worried when factories around us closed, really worried. But, through hard work and dedication and a loyal clientele, we made it — and good food.”
Martino’s Italian Villa has been a family-owned and operated business since its inception, which meant all of Angela and husband Frank’s children worked at the restaurant in some fashion while growing up.
Martino, for example, was on the schedule at age 14 for four nights a week making pizzas. His younger sister, Mary, started helping at the previous locations when she was 7. One of her jobs was picking up discarded cigarettes outside of the restaurant. Although she said others might have shirked at the job, her parents instilled in her a sense of pride.
“They never said, ‘Whatever job you take is beneath you.’ Everybody starts somewhere,” Mary said. “Because even people who pick up trash, somebody has to do it. Somebody has to do it. And you take pride in that and do the best job that you can. So they always instilled doing the best job you can, no matter what somebody says. My parents said, ‘Somebody can make fun of you. Don’t listen because you’re doing the best dog-gone job you can, and it’s not between you and them anyway; it’s between you and God.’”
Mary said with that sense of pride came a sense of duty as well. She said her parents were very generous and that, when she was younger, she remembered one of the employees at the restaurant, a dishwasher, didn’t have enough money for Christmas. So Mary’s parents pitched in to purchase the woman groceries and gifts for her family and left them at her front door.
Years later, and despite a pandemic, the family said that the restaurant was “doing great.” Martino said business was not affected by the pandemic as much as he expected and that the transition from dine-in to carry-out was just a “change in logistics” for the restaurant.
Although Martino said the family has been mulling over the decision to sell for years, he said now seemed like the right time.
“The main goal is to keep Martino’s alive. My heart says ‘no,’ but my head and body say, ‘You better start thinking about it,’” Martino said.