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MAMA DiGrado’s owners pass the torch

Contributed Photo Owners of Mama DiGrado’s Pasta and Pizza, Kimi and Dave Hilsabeck, are thanking all customers for their patronage as they begin the transition to new ownership.

A Marshalltown favorite for Italian cuisine is getting new ownership.

Longtime owners of MAMA DiGrado’s Pasta and Pizza, Dave and Kimi Hilsabeck, have announced they have accepted a buy offer and are in the process of transitioning.

While the new owner is not ready to make their name public, they have ensured the tastes and feels of the restaurant will stay familiar. The staff, location, recipes and signature Sicilian seasonings will all remain intact once the new owner takes over.

“It’s time to pass the baton off to someone,” Dave said. “The new owner wants everyone to understand that he’s not changing anything. He’s not investing money in this business to come in and flip things over. He is purchasing the restaurant because of what we built, and he has stated several times he doesn’t want to change that.”

Seeing the outpouring of support from friends and customers since announcing the sale has been emotional, said the Hilsabecks.

“To get all that love is very humbling,” Kimi said. “To know that we’ve touched that many lives and gave them pleasure, because food is pleasure.”

Selling the restaurant will cap off 30 years of work for both Dave and Kimi. The couple started their business in Marshalltown as a spice blending company under the name DiGrado Food Products in 1988, selling their blends of spices to grocery stores and various restaurants. They operated out of their basement, starting the company with only $100.

“We just kept rolling that $100 over and over and over,” Dave said.

Dave’s great grandmother Pauline Licatesi brought Sicilian style recipes with her to the United States when she moved to the country from Sicily, Italy in the early 1900s. When Dave began showing interest in cooking and the restaurant business as a teeanger, the recipes were passed on to him.

While selling their spices to other restaurants, the Hilsbaecks always believed the spices could be put to better use.

In 2006, the Hilsabeck’s restaurant venture began with the purchase of their first location. Located in a strip mall next to the Marshalltown Walmart, the location seated 45 patrons.

“We always wanted to own a restaurant, but there was never a right time until that opportunity came along,” Dave said.

Now 15 years later located at the Marshalltown Mall, the location seats 145 patrons.

Kimi said some of the best memories of owning MAMA DiGrado’s was getting to watch it develop.

“Just watching it grow up from small to where we’re at now with 145 seating capacity, there’s times when you think, ‘boy I can almost get bigger than this,’ but that was about the perfect size,” Kimi said.

Throughout the years, the Hilsabecks said their customers have become their friends and their employees have become their second family.

“I consider all of our customers friends,” Kimi said. “I call them friends because you do become friends with people when you’re able to chat with them at the restaurant, you see them outside of the restaurant and you can still strike up a conversation with them.”

Some of the employees, when starting at MAMA DiGrado’s never had a job, but by the time those employees left, they developed a sense of worth ethic, the Hilsabecks said. They have loved seeing former employees go on to do other things and then return to say hello.

Dave and Kimi will soon be enjoying MAMA DiGrado’s as customers instead of owners.

“Unless family has come to town, we’ve never really gone in, her and I, and just sat and ate at the restaurant,” Dave Hilsabeck said. “We’ll be kind of like new customers.”

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Contact Trevor Babcock

at 641-753-6611 or

tbabcock@timesrepublican.com.

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