Mama Cozza’s Italian Restaurant

EricS.

mama cozza's pizza, frank 1956

Founded by a former beat cop and his wife, this Southern California mainstay has thrilled celebs and civilians alike with its warm, hospitable service and authentic Italian specialties.

When he wasn’t working his beat, Frank Cozza, a police officer in Anaheim, California, often spent time in a restaurant called Costello’s in the 1950s, until the business moved locations. Its replacement, a beer and pool hall, eventually folded, and Frank’s wife, driving past the vacated building, noticed a “For Lease” sign. Frank leaped at the chance to create his own venue, and Mama Cozza’s Italian Restaurant (mamacozzas.com) opened its doors in 1965, with Frank and his wife helming the operation.

frank and junior

The couple did have some help: Friend Jack Sullivan, executive chef at the local Disneyland Hotel, initially guided them through the ins and outs of the biz. But when Frank’s Italian-born mother visited from New York in 1968, she swiftly kicked the couple out of the kitchen and went to work, showing them the “proper” way to cook her homeland’s delicacies. “My grandmother changed everything,” recalls Frank Cozza Jr., son of Frank. “My father knew how to cook, but not for people.”

Mama Cozza's boasts a wall of celebrity guests, including such notables as actor Ernest Borgnine.Luckily, as a police officer, the elder Cozza counted many friends in the community, and word-of-mouth soon spread. Small menu tweaks occurred over the decades, but generally the recipes and menu have remained the same—and Frank Jr. believes this steadfast consistency has kept the restaurant afloat, even in rocky economic times. Meanwhile, accommodating touches make customers feel like family; they’re treated to a pre-meal relish tray and breadsticks, plus after-dinner anisette and oranges, on the house. The lounge offers a lively atmosphere, with sports on six TVs and weekend live entertainment, while an adjacent banquet room hosts large parties. “We’re not looking for the one-time customer,” Frank Jr. notes. “We want people to come on a regular basis because this is their home. My father prided himself on service, so we make sure customers feel taken care of.”

Being in Southern California, Mama Cozza’s has attracted plenty of celebs over the years—Rudy Vallée, Ernest Borgnine and Gwen Stefani, to name a few—but the restaurant created its own celebrity when it was featured in 2010 on the popular Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. “That sparked my father’s life and gave him a sense that he did well,” Frank Jr. proudly remembers. “The 50 years have gone by so fast. It’s been a nice ride, and we just keep going.”

By Tracy Morin

mamacozzas.com

5 Comments

  1. Kim GoniReply
    January 9, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    The Goni’s truly love the cozzas. I went to school with Connie. WE HAD A AMAZING time in Morro beach. I believe it was CIF. Western was extremely frendly with Loara. TY Tembro Scott Young Chris Zurga and Jay from Fountain Valley it was such fun. Would love to se all the guys again.

  2. Dave ConnellReply
    January 10, 2016 at 1:12 am

    My family has been visiting Mommas Cozza’s for years. I was taken for the first time by my wife’s uncle in 2003 and since then it’s become a staple to our family and we continue to enjoy yearly family meals and celebrations. Thank you for the service, quality, and your commitment to excellence. Connell Family.

  3. Sharon LongReply
    January 10, 2016 at 7:03 pm

    My favorite restaurant. I feel like I am part of the family. The prime rib is the best anywhere. This is a true family run restaurant. They take pride in the food and the service. They are not kidding about celebs eating there. I have seen Gwen Stefani a couple of times. Also, Guy Frier from Diners, Drive-ins and Dives goes whenever he is in town. Can’t go more than two weeks without my Cozza fix. Love it!

  4. Jeannie KozinskiReply
    January 11, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    My husband Greg and I met the Cozzas when our daughter married the son of a long time friend of the Cozzas. We love their restaurant and every family member we have met, they are ‘real people’ who truly love taking care of their customers.
    Frank will be greatly missed but the Cozza Kids will keep him alive in this infamous restaurant.
    God Bless each of you.

  5. Kevin J MellinReply
    January 12, 2016 at 4:58 am

    Thank you Frank Sr. and Frank Jr. for sharing your great food and atmosphere for decades . I purposed to my wife thirty years ago in your restaurant I live now a hundred miles away but when I’m in town I always stop in for the fried mozerella and the manicotti. I tell everyone who’s looking for a authentic Italian restaurant I recommend the best out here on the west coast My family was from Brooklyn but I was born out here 58 years ago on the corner of Ball Rd and Gilbert Ave which used to have a hospital named Garden Park. Congratulations on a successful business and thank you for great food and terrific memories. God Bless your family and your employees.

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