Mark Lobdell worked for years in the automotive industry, most recently as the parts and service director for one of the Valley’s large dealerships.
But he had a dream: To own an Italian deli.
Last week, his dream became a reality when he and his wife, Jenifer, opened Cucina di Vita in downtown Mesa.
“My husband has always wanted to do this,” says Jenifer Lobdell. “With the economic downturn, especially in the car business, it was just the right time.”
The longtime Mesa residents (pictured below), who also have been running a party planning company called Life of the Party for a couple years, took over the former Picnic Company restaurant space in October and began giving it a serious facelift.
Among the improvements: new tile, new paint, remodeled bathrooms, a new back entrance, new counters and a new deli case. They’ve also added 16 stools down a former hallway where customers can plug in laptops to take advantage of free wi-fi.
The menu features salads, hot and cold sandwiches, paninis and pizzas. Most are family recipes; Mark’s family has run an Italian restaurant near Chicago for 50 years.
“It’s his uncle’s pizza sauce, his Aunt Jean’s sausage and peppers,” Jenifer Lobdell says. “We use his grandma’s sauce recipe, which came over on the boat from Sicily.”
The Lobdells are importing deli meats, such as Genoa salami and capicola, from Italy. They chose prosciutto di San Daniele over of the better-known prosciutto di Parma because, Jenifer says, the darker, sweeter ham “just tastes better.”
The couple plan to start offering a European-style breakfast – coffee and pastries – as well as an occasional breakfast special, such as a frittata, by the deli’s official grand opening Feb. 19.
The Lobdells say they are applying for a beer and wine license. Other plans include a retail grocery section for Italian imports and an arts-and-crafts boutique.
They also are considering adding a gelato case in May and, further down the road, making their own cannolis.
Cucina di Vita
Where: 142 W. Main St., Mesa
Open: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday.
Prices: Salads $2.50-$6.95, sandwiches $5.99-$6.99, pizzas $5.99 (8-inch) and $9.99 (12-inch), desserts $2.99-$3.99
Info: (480) 834-3898 or www.cucinadivita.com
(Photos by Tom Boggan, East Valley Tribune)