Marcelo and Kimberly Vivero have owned Nonna Maria's Pizzeria and Italian Ristorante located in the DeBary Commons shopping plaza for the past four years.
The restaurant is named after Marcelo's grandmother, Nonna Maria, who emigrated from Sicily to Argentina. Marcelo, along with his siblings and cousins, grew up in Argentina learning the art of cooking from her.
Marcelo immigrated to the United States in 2001 and, after meeting and marrying Kimberly, worked as a cook and manager for many different restaurants.
“Marcelo would build up the businesses for these people, and once it was built up, they would sell it,” Kimberly said. “Soon after selling, Marcelo would be out of a job, because most of the people buying the Italian restaurants would want to cook in their own kitchens and manage it themselves.”
Marcelo’s dream was to find a restaurant the couple could call home. He discovered an open space for lease while driving through DeBary. After driving by a few times, and checking out the place, the Viveros decided to go for it.
“She believed in the family dinner table,” Marcelo said of his grandmother. “We grew up with all the grandkids sitting next to her at the table, and she would show us how to make bread. Those early memories are what drove me to first open the restaurant. That’s why I had the dream to do this, and why I put her name on the restaurant.”
Most of the recipes are Marcelo’s. The exception is the bread recipe, which was Nonna Maria’s.
If you were to turn back time, and visit the DeBary restaurant a year ago, you would find it completely different. The restaurant has more than doubled in size, with the original space now completely occupied by the kitchen.
“And whatever you see here, I built it myself,” Marcelo said proudly as he looked over the restaurant.
Asked if he had experience in remodeling and decorating, he replied, “I’m Italian; we can do anything.”
All the touches go a long way in making you feel like you’re in Italy. There’s a wooden sign on the restaurant's wall with “Nonna Maria’s” name, along with a full-size pergola that Marcelo adapted from one he built at home.
“What people don't realize is that we’re more than a pizzeria now,” Kimberly said. Indicating the original space, she continued, “When we were over there, it made sense to have just the pizza, because it was quick.”
With the additional space, it’s about 50/50, with roughly half of the customers coming in for pizza and others for full Italian dinners.
All dinners are served with a choice of a small salad or the soup of the day and freshly baked garlic knots. The portions are very large and, coupled with your entree, it’s almost guaranteed you will leave with a to-go box.
Every day brings a new soup to Nonna Maria’s. The most popular soup and the one requested most by regulars is their homemade Italian wedding soup.
“We get calls every day with people asking if there’s an Italian wedding today,” Kimberly said.
Marcelo joked, “We’re still working on the American divorce soup.”
The soup of the day on our visit was chicken Florentine, which was something foreign to me, as I’ve never been to Florence. The very green soup had chicken, spinach, broccoli and mushrooms. I found myself a fan of the soup and the city after sipping on the broth and biting into the tender chicken.
My companion ordered a salad with house dressing, a tangy vinaigrette.
The soup and salad were accompanied by a basket of fresh, buttery garlic knots.
While chicken wings aren’t often found in a traditional Italian restaurant, you can find them at Nonna Maria’s. Kimberly said they exist on the menu to cater to those who may not be in the mood for Italian and are simply looking for a bite to eat.
It would be remiss to not mention the signature pizza, named after Kimberly's father, who passed away just a week before the restaurant’s opening.
Pop Pop’s Supreme is Nonna Maria's take on a supreme pizza.
Our server, coincidently also named Kimberly, said it's been great working with Marcelo and his wife. She noted they make almost everything fresh, and they made us feel very taken care of.
I decided to order a classic Italian dish — lasagna — and my companion chose the chicken Marsala.
When it comes to lasagna, I may just love it more than Garfield the cat. Nonna Maria’s lasagna was creamy and delicious. It was all there: cheese, pasta, meat and sauce.
The thick cheese on top was a bit overwhelming for me, as I personally enjoy a hearty lasagna with the ingredients more evenly distributed.
If you’re not crazy about cheesy dishes, chicken Marsala may be a good fit. The Marsala sauce was not at all overstated; there was just enough to coat the chicken and pasta nicely. If you’re a fan of chicken Marsala, you can’t go wrong with Nonna Maria’s version.
“Everything here is made fresh,” Kimberly said, adding, “Well, everything except for the chicken tenders. The kids are really picky about those.”
She went over the menu with me, highlighting the vegetarian and vegan options.
“We have options for diabetics as well, and we are working on getting some keto-friendly food in soon,” she said.
To top off our meal, my companion and I shared a homemade chocolate shell cannoli. It was crispy and sweet — true to an original cannoli from Italy.
“They can come in different sizes to fit the size of the party,” Kimberly said.
Nonna Maria’s also offers gelato bombas, tiramisu, cheesecake and zeppole for dessert.
A big part of Nonna Maria’s is their commitment to benefiting the community. Marcelo and Kimberly sponsor a local youth baseball team.
“There’s nothing like seeing the kids with Nonna Maria’s on the back of their shirts,” Kimberly said.
Each year, the restaurant sponsors a Christmas Eve meal for a family referred by DeBary Elementary School.
They also opened their kitchen to residents of an Orange City senior-living facility, who were able to watch how pizzas are prepared.
“I always wanted to give back, and now that I’m in a position that I can, that’s what we try to do,” Kimberly said.
Kimberly and Marcelo’s kindness and love for the community extend to their staff as well. Ray, “the pizza guy,” is well-known among the regular customers who enjoy his jokes and banter.
He and the other members of the staff have worked to serve the community in every way they can, not just by serving food.
For example, staff members, along with Marcelo and Kim, worked the day after each of the two most recent hurricanes, filling orders for people who were without power and looking for a hot meal.
Kimberly and Marcelo have worked the past four years to build, not just a restaurant, but a community.
“We knew we wanted a restaurant in a small town where we could have people come in that we knew by name,” Kimberly said.
Nonna Maria passed away before her namesake restaurant opened, but her memory lives on through the spirit of the restaurant and through Marcelo, who keeps her values alive.
Now, Marcelo has a granddaughter of his own, little Stella. Perhaps one day Nonno Marcelo will teach her how to make the family bread recipe that his grandmother taught him.