Martino’s Italian Villa
With no help from the banks and six kids at home, Frank and Angela Martino grew their little 20-seat pizza shop into a sprawling 300-seater in just 10 years.
Little did Angela Martino know that Frank, her neighbor and brother’s best friend in Italy, would become her husband years later, well after both had landed Stateside. Or that he’d whisk her from the East Coast to Kokomo, Indiana, where in April 1962 they’d start a small donut shop, short-order restaurant and pizzeria with a $1,000 bank loan when they found it tough to pay the bills on a single salary. “We didn’t have an extra quarter for bus fare and got turned down by two or three banks,” recalls Angela, who owns Martino’s Italian Villa with her son, Michael. “We were young, and they didn’t think we’d make it.”
Still living paycheck to paycheck, Frank initially worked in the steel mills at night, while Angela handled bookkeeping and raised six kids, who all helped out in the restaurant. By serving up food like Mama used to make—sausage, dough, meatballs, bread and sauces made from scratch, hand-grated mozzarella—word-of-mouth soon spread about the little shop that served customers top-notch fare with a smile. “Our menu started off limited as we introduced people to different varieties of Italian food,” Angela notes. “We didn’t have any experience and started from square one, experimenting with our recipes. We had to really prove ourselves.”
Their hard work paid off: The couple expanded to a restaurant and lounge, growing from 20 seats to 125, and finally nearly 300, in just 10 years, serving Italian specialties alongside American favorites. Frank passed away in the mid-2000s, but now Angela’s grandson, Anthony, helps out, handling modern technology like social media, while Angela, at 81 years old, remains in the business every day with Michael, who joined full-time after college, in 1982. “We all work together to make sure it’s done right,” Angela says. “It’s a family affair, and our customers are part of the family, too.”
Over the years, the Martinos have racked up a slew of “best of” awards and even earned the key to the city for their community involvement (including sponsoring a local Little League team for the last 48 years), while Angela has been lauded as female trailblazer of the year. But overcoming challenges through sheer persistence has been the real key to their longevity. “It’s about determination, because we’ve had rough times—recessions, new competition, factories closing in our area—but we stuck it out and worked hard,” Angela says. “You have to face challenges, go on and never give up. If you want something, you have to work hard. I haven’t found any other way to do it.”
Husband-and-wife workaholics Frank Martino and Angela Martino, shown here in the late ’60s and early ’70s, were constant fixtures at Martino’s Italian Villa. At 81, Angela still works in the business daily, crafting old-fashioned Italian fare from scratch.
By Tracy Morin