Mario’s: Celebrating Sixty Years on Canada Street
Joe Loschiavo has been dining at Mario’s since 1954, the year Mary Mazzeo turned her summer home on Canada Street into a restaurant and began serving dinner in the living room.
“For us, the only restaurant in Lake George Village is Mario’s. We stopped in one day and asked Mary if she had pasta fazool. It was the best. We’ve come back every year since then,” said Schiavo, a New Yorker who was among those who helped Paul and Nancy Nichols celebrate the restaurant’s 60th anniversary on May 15.
The Nicholses are the third generation of the Mazzeo family to own and operate the village landmark.
“Mario’s is an institution,” said Mayor Bob Blais, who presented the Nicholses with a gift expressing the community’s appreciation of their contributions, which are not limited to the culinary; without the Nicholses, the Winter Carnival and organizations such as Women In Need would suffer, said Blais.
“Nancy and Paul’s personalities are among the secrets of Mario’s success. They’re always on site, ready to greet the customers and make certain they’re happy. That’s essential,” Blais said.
Deb Foley, the Lake George Town Clerk, began working at Mario’s thirty years ago, when it was operated by Rena Mazzeo, Paul Nichols’ mother.
“Everyone who has ever worked here is part of the family,” said Foley. “Rena was great to work for and we loved working for her.”
Paul and Nancy Nichols have maintained the tradition of treating their staff well, said Foley.
According to the Nicholses, that’s easy.
“I love the camaraderie of the restaurant; the employees are among my best friends, and they’ll be our friends for life,” said Nancy Nichols.
“If you provide a clean, safe, working environment and good wages, you’ll always have good help,” said Paul Nichols, repeating something he learned from his step-father, Carmello “Charlie” Mazzeo.
“We keep our cooks from year to year; that helps us to maintain the quality and consistency of the menu,” he added.
Some items on that menu have re-appeared every year since 1954, such as the pasta and sausage sauce (or gravy, as Mary Mazzeo called it), while others, including the famous Chicken Calabrese, are available only on request.
“When my grandmother started Mario’s, it was an Italian restaurant. But it’s no longer accurate to call us an Italian restaurant, or an Italian-American restaurant. We’ve expanded the menu to appeal to a broader, more diverse audience. And because we cook to order, we can accommodate most tastes,” said Nichols.
Adapting to the changing tastes of the clientele is part of adapting to the changing character of Lake George, said Nichols.
“When I was a kid, shucking clams in the kitchen, people rented cabins and stayed for two weeks. Today, the stays are shorter; people want more variety in everything, food included,” said Nichols.
Just as the menu has evolved, so, too, has the restaurant itself.
Mary Mazzeo’s screened porch was enclosed in 1962 and more space was added in 1966 and 1976.
Earlier this year, the bar area was renovated.
“We wanted to make it more appealing for the people who like to dine at the bar, something which is growing in popularity,” said Nancy Nichols.
The building, however, remains one of the most visually appealing of any restaurant in Lake George Village, something which the Nicholses work hard to maintain, said Paul.
“Our appearance creates expectations of the quality of the dining experience, which we want to meet,” said Paul.
“The way Nancy greets the customers does the same thing,” he added. “She has a knack for making people feel welcome, for making them feel that dinner here will be worth their while.”
While Nancy can usually be found at one of the restaurant’s two entrances, Paul is continuously in and out of the kitchen, supervising the preparation of his customers’ dinners and then making certain they’ve enjoyed them.
“The restaurant opens, the door swings open, and you never know who will be next; that’s what keeps me here. It’s never monotonous,” he said. .
As long as that never changes, both Nicholses will remain at Mario’s.
“When it’s not fun anymore, that’s when we’ll stop,”