When Mardi Gras Fine Foods opened 25 years ago, Beef Bourguignon was a menu favorite, the Internet was but a glimmer in Al Gore’s eye and Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, was a year old. But if you want to stay in the food business for more than two and a half decades, some things have to change.
Just not the Beef Bourguignon.
That has been the challenge for Maria Carrozza, who bought Mardi Gras three years ago with her brother, Antonio Carrozza and sister Angela Gillespie after the catering and takeout shop’s founders retired. They’ve added grilled items and expanded Mardi Gras’ ethnic range to Cajun, Tex-Mex and Mexican. But they have balanced the newcomers against the standards, which most definitely have a following.
“Beef Bourguignon has been on the menu since the beginning. If a week goes by and I don’t have it, the knives will be out,” says Maria Carrozza with a laugh. And she has come to know Mardi Gras’ loyalists well enough that when their favorite food comes up on the ever-changing menu, she calls them with an alert. “And then they come in and buy the whole thing,” she says.
But today’s foodies have come to rely on the Internet for their menu updates. The Carrozza-Gillespie clan put all the daily and seasonal changes on Mardi-Gras’ Web site, and, last month, unveiled a revamped Facebook page that is rapidly adding fans who crave instant food satisfaction. “The morning we posted that we had Muffaletta sandwiches, one of them saw it and ordered immediately,” Maria Carrozza says.
Not everything that Mardi Gras’ new owners have tried has worked. Shortly after taking over, they opened the southern-influenced Bayou Grill next door. It has closed, but that may have been more the fault of the recession than Verona’s interest in pulled pork sandwiches–which, by the way, still pop up on Mardi Gras’ menu.
Maria Carrozza hails from Fairfield, and went to high school there with another Verona business owner, Anthony Lombardi of Anthony Robert Salon. Since Lombardi is also one of the stars of “Jerseylicious“, it probably didn’t hurt that he declared his love of Mardi Gras’ cupcakes on his Facebook page. (The baby shower version is pictured here.)
Carrozza is acutely aware of the challenges that face all business owners as the recession lingers. But she is confident that Mardi Gras’ mix of old favorites and new (pizza bar pies and French macaroons, anyone?) will pull it through. And with a business named for the celebration that precedes a season of renewal, Carrozza could well be right.