Mama’s Meatball to stay in the family after essay contest fails to find new owner

A 2008 photo shows Mama’s Meatball employees (from left to right) Julie Woosley, Jos Martines Rosas, Luca Allegretta, and Nicola Allegretta.
A 2008 photo shows Mama’s Meatball employees (from left to right) Julie Woosley, Jos Martines Rosas, Luca Allegretta, and Nicola Allegretta. The Tribune

Mama’s Meatball in San Luis Obispo will remain under the same ownership after an essay contest to give the restaurant away failed to find the right match, owner Nicola Allegretta said.

The Italian native said the restaurant, which opened in the Creamery building at 570 Higuera St. in 2006, will remain under the ownership of Allegretta and his wife, Jackline Ortiz De Zevallos Allegretta.

But he said that his brothers, Luca and Cosimo Allegretta, will take on larger responsibilities and receive profit-sharing percentages as a reflection of their increased roles.

“We don’t know exactly what percentage it will be,” Allegretta said. “We’ll be changing some of the food and labor cost structures, but also they are going to get some motivation monetarily to receive a higher percentage of the profits.”

Over the summer, Allegretta announced that he would hold an essay contest asking participants to answer, in 250 words or less, “Why am I the best person(s) to own and operate Mama’s Meatball Restaurant in San Luis Obispo?”

The contest carried a $200 entry fee, and Allegretta hoped to get at least 5,000 entries to generate at least $1 million toward covering the costs of organizing the contest and compensation for assets. From the outset, Allegretta reserved the right to cancel the contest if he didn’t get enough entries.

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Mama’s Meatball sandwich in San Luis Obispo. Joe Johnston The Tribune

The business had been valued at about $500,000, including all inventory, equipment, furnishings, recipes and its brand, according to Allegretta.

Allegretta said he received only about 40 entries and all of the entry fee money has been returned to contestants.

“We didn’t find a really serious person,” Allegretta said. “We didn’t feel like there was someone with experience in the industry who had the right knowledge and love of cooking. We have really enjoyed our role here and supporting the community.”

One of the requirements that was part of owning the business was to agree contractually to keep the core menu, name and branding. The new owner also would have needed to retain the current employees, including many who have been there for years, at their current rate of pay. Special dishes and minor changes would have been allowed.

Allegretta said that he has taken pride in providing people with jobs and helping them achieve their goals, even if it’s moving on to future career opportunities.

He said the ongoing construction to upgrade and expand the Creamery complex has created some parking challenges and business declined during that period. But he expects the improvements, including a pedestrian courtyard and new bathrooms, to help.

“Business has been a down somewhat over the summer because of the construction,” Allegretta said. “Wherever there’s construction anywhere near a business in town, there’s going to be noise and parking issues and things getting dirty. But the CoVelop (landlord) people have been very nice and they’ve been talking a lot with the tenants about their plans and making this transformation.”

Allegretta said he’ll keep the basic menu, which aims to replicate the home cooking of his childhood, the same moving forward.

“We can do something more sophisticated Italian,” Allegretta. “But our goal is to keep it simple, family-oriented, that the kids will look too, the basic stuff like the spaghetti and meatballs, fettuccine alfredo and a meatball sandwich. Our food that recognizes the cooking of the moms of the word. Nobody can cook like my mama does.”

Scenes from the Downtown San Luis Obispo Farmers Market, which runs year-round. There's music, barbecue and, of course, fresh fruits and vegetables.

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