Italian Cuisine From A Family Team
by Mike Hulter
If Eugene were a coat, I expect it would have upwards of a thousand pockets. An entire coat made of nothing but pockets holding an infinite variety of endearing oddities and worthwhile rabbit trails. One such pocket is at the mouth of the Southern Hills of Eugene. The sky opens up a bit, the street becomes lined with greenery, the air seems clear and perspective becomes fresh. The “barely any blue in the sky” becomes “passing patches of clouds” and your heavy step-step becomes springy in anticipation of what’s next.
What’s next has always been up to whoever happens along, and in 1970, a fresh U of O graduate knew what ought to be next. The graduate’s name was Frank Ernandes, and Frank wanted a restaurant. Frank wanted his restaurant to center around family which might be why he chose to name it after his father Mazzi, who had come here from Favignana, a little island off the coast of Sicily.
To qualify as a bona fide Italian restaurant you need more than an Italian name, and Frank went to work putting together a menu made up of family recipes brought over from Favignana. To this day they serve Italian sausage made in the style of cousin Franco, cheesecake the way Mary always made it, fettuccine made daily on their own bona fide Italian fettuccine machine, and fresh basil and a variety of other seasonal ingredients grown on their own farm. It’s not a catch phrase when they say “We hope you enjoy the food of our family.” Located by the Old Pad near 37th and Hilyard, Mazzi’s is charmingly tucked away in a spot you’ll only find if you know exactly what you’re looking for. Apparently Frank knew exactly what he was looking for.
41 year later, this family operation has grown into much more than just an Italian restaurant. Hideaway Bakery was the first addition, started by Frank’s son Mazzi the younger, who carries on the tradition of family with artisan foods, and offering customers the feeling of visiting a friend’s house for breakfast. The massive wood fired oven proves beyond any question that their goal is genuine quality and traditional techniques. The oven is fed with slabs of wood from a South Eugene mill which would otherwise be wasted. Also following locavarian ideals, Mazzi’s and Hideaway Bakery cook with ingredients grown on their own farm just over the South hills of Eugene.
Hideaway Bakery is the more active of the two businesses. Hosting a stand at the downtown Saturday market was a start, and they continue to do so, but they’ve also chosen to host a simultaneous Farmers Market of their own in the parking lot by the bakery. They seem to be doing something right. At the market, Hideaway is out in the open with all the others, competing with New Dawn, New Day, and New Dough, among other bakeries. I made up that last one. There’s no new dough bakery. Kind of an ironic turn of phrase considering Eugene’s lack of new money, but Mazzi’s sets a good example as to how we might weather economic hardships : family, community, shared labor, and the willingness to continually develop.
What gives this group such success? Why have they managed to not only start but continue starting and use their success to leverage side projects? I posed this question to Mason, their general manager, and his response was
“They go where good value is.”
Hideaway and Mazzi’s simply seem to carry community based ideals; and their expressions of business become expressions of community. They make a point of connecting with each individual and truly make it their goal to be welcoming and accessible. It seems to be that simple. If you start with positivity, love, and functionality, than whatever grows out of that will reflect the original functionality. The key here is generational. Inspired by Papa Mazzi, the man who brought his family here, and watched his son Frank attend college. Papa Mazzi carried the ties with family and Italian tradition. Frank became the first true Eugenian of the Ernandes family by attending U of O and initiating the Mazzi’s establishment. Frank’s son, Mazzi the younger, the third generation of American Ernandes , has managed to bring Eugene a new and compelling experience through Hideaway Bakery.
And what else do they do? What’s the real reason I brought them up? Because they do pizza night. Aside from being the most effective comfort food in my life, pizza is also Italian and they do a stellar version with a unique Mazzi twist. Constantly in development, Mason tells me that Mazzi’s is working on installing a full bar, which should be in full operation in July. Aside from the constant fringe improvements, (new napkins, flowers on every table, extensive re-landscaping) Mason says they’ve always got a project going on. It’s patio season and Mazzi’s multiple patios feel like the perfect hideaway.