Milford chamber recognizes Mama Maria for feeding needy

Chamber of Commerce President Angel Hodges presents the Professional Citizens of the Year Award 2020 to Mama Maria Restaurant and Pizzareia owners Franco, left, and Salvatore Laragione for their charitably work for the community.

MILFORD — The Greater Milford Chamber of Commerce on Friday gave its 2020 Professional Citizens of the Year award to the two brothers who own Mama Maria Restaurant & Pizzeria.

Salvatore and Franco Laragione, both native Neapolitans, were commended for their efforts to provide quality food free of charge to those in need at the beginning of the pandemic.

“We certainly didn’t do what we did to receive an award, but we are very appreciative that we did,” Franco said.

“Back in March, when COVID started, we decided to try to keep busy since business declined over 75 percent,” he said.

The brothers, who wanted to keep their employees working, began donating meals to those in need.

“We decided to start with 300 meal kits to give away to people,” Franco said.

Those included a jar of pasta sauce made at the restaurant, six fresh homemade rolls and a pound of pasta from Naples.

“I wanted to make sure Italy was involved somehow because they were hit pretty hard, as well,” Franco said of the early months of the pandemic.

“I knew that I needed to call someone to somehow help me distribute these kits. So I decided to call the Milford School District to see if they would do a robocall for me so people could somehow get the word out,” he said.

They ended up putting a call out every Monday and Wednesday.

On those days, Franco said, “People would call in at 10 a.m. Then, we would take their name. We would give them a number, and a couple of hours later, they’d come by the restaurant to pick up a kit.”

He said locals quickly got word of what the brothers were doing.

“Before you know it, people started knowing about it, and everybody in the city of Milford, and I mean everyone — all our customers and everyone — started handing us money basically just to pay it forward,” Franco said.

“We didn’t want to make the money and keep the money. So in turn, we just started making more jars and more kits,” he said. “By the end of June, we had distributed over 4,900 meal kits.”

Susan Avalos, an administrative assistant with the Greater Milford Chamber of Commerce, said the brothers were nominated and voted for by locals.

“It was voted on by members and community members,” she said. “We had sent out the form for members, and it was in the newspaper so community members could have also voted.”

Ms. Avalos said the brothers have “definitely made it easier for everybody to process what 2020 has given.”

Ms. Avalos said past recipients of the award include Gwen Guerke, a communications coordinator for the Delaware Food Bank and former Milford Chronicle editor.

She said other locals like Roy Rigby, a Milford High School wrestling coach, and Ruth Ann Beideman, who dedicated herself to volunteering with the elderly, have also been recognized.

Franco said he and Salvatore came directly to Milford from Naples when they 13 and 17, respectively. Their father, Giuseppe, brought the family over to run a local pizza franchise called Attilio’s, which was owned by one of his childhood friends.

Eventually, the family opened their own restaurant and named it Mama Maria, after Giuseppe’s mother.

When asked why he and his brother felt compelled to help locals in need, Franco said they wanted to give back to the community that had accepted and supported them.

“I came to this country when I was 13 from Naples, Italy, (which has) 5 million inhabitants, to 8,000 inhabitants in Milford, Delaware. So it was definitely a shock for me,” Franco said.

“I pretty much grew up in Milford. I was only 13. I’ve been here all my life. I’m 50 years old,” he said.

“We’re very fortunate. We’re a very successful business, both here in Milford and in Dewey Beach with our other restaurant,” Franco said. “We were lucky enough to build this whole center here that we own.”

He said he and Salvatore “thought that we needed to give back to the community, and we continue to do so, because the community been good to us by supporting us for the last 37 years.”

Ms. Avalos said many in the community love Mama Maria.

“I know a lot of people speak highly of it,” she said. “I love their food. It’s delicious…

“We normally do the pizza.”