STEUBENVILLE - For someone who's never taken a cooking class in his life, Matt Parise sure is doing a lot of it these days.
Parise, trained as an electrical engineer, learned to cook by watching his father, the late S. Matt Parise.
"He learned to cook at a restaurant where he worked while he went to college," Parise said. "When I was growing up, sometimes on weekends he'd go into the kitchen and just start cooking. It was amazing what he would make, fabulous, fabulous food, and he'd do it with whatever was in the refrigerator. I'd say there's nothing in there, he'd say there's a seven-course meal. A lot of what we do now there's no recipes for - it's a talent I got off him, watching him for so many years."
GROWING BUSINESS — Mama G’s is now the exclusive caterer for Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church’s Hellenic Hall. The recently renovated hall, which seats in excess of 300, offers ample parking, handicap access and a separate bar area, and Parish President Tony Mougianis said they’re “very, very enthused at what the future holds for that facility.” Pictured with Mougianis are Evelyn Parise, center, who makes the desserts, and her son Matt, right, who started the catering business five years ago. -- Dave Gossett
Parise worked in engineering for 12 years before coming home after his father died. He was in sales for a while, even dabbling in politics for a bit before going into business for himself. He'd spent some time over the years working with his cousin, John Giannamore of Giannamore's Pizza, so opening his own shop, Mama G's Pizza, seven years ago in Toronto just seemed the logical thing to do. By popular request he started his own catering line, Mama G's Catering, two years later.
"It grew very quickly," he said. "We're a full-line caterer, we do everything from roast beef to lasagna to chicken and pork, anything anybody wants."
Parise has a theory about cooking for Ohio Valley palates: Food doesn't have to be exotic, as long as it's homemade and tastes good. Really good.
He favors "food like your mom used to cook."
"If you serve really good, homemade food, this area loves it," he said. "I'm not going to serve food people don't know how to pronounce. My philosophy is that good homemade food is what people are looking for, what they like, and that's what we provide. "
Parise's menu has a distinct Italian flair - homemade lasagna, manicotti, spaghetti and sauces, chicken parmesan and Italian-baked chicken - but he's more than capable of serving up staples like stuffed peppers and cabbage rolls, roast beef and pork loin, baked chicken and flounder, barbeque ribs, sausage, meatballs and fried chicken.
His mother, Evelyn, handles the baking, except for wedding cakes, baking it all from scratch.
"We strive to give people good, quality food at a reasonable price," he said, adding that's he's very hands-on when it comes to his business, "so I cook all the foods and meet with all the clients."
"I know eventually I'm going to have to let other people (handle some things), but the food end will always be handled by me."
Recently, Mama G's was named exclusive caterer for the newly remodeled Hellenic Hall in historic Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Fourth and South streets, Steubenville. Parise sees that as a prime opportunity for his business as well as the hall.
"I'm just very excited at the opportunity to represent not only Mama G's Catering, but all Hellenic Hall," he said, pointing out they can do everything from weddings and graduations to birthdays, anniversaries, funerals, business meetings, business lunches and holiday parties. "And people can bring in their own food - they don't have to have it catered. You can rent the hall and bring your own food, if you want to."
Parise said his first Hellenic Hall event, a wedding with a 300-person guest list, happened even before the contract was signed.
His efforts aren't going unnoticed.
"Matt is doing a terrific job," said Tony Mougianis, president of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church parish council. "We're just very, very enthused at what the future holds for that facility. It was just in the last couple years that we remodeled that facility, we feel it's a great venue. A lot of people aren't aware this facility is available for parties, weddings, graduations, etc., so we're on a campaign to get the word out. There aren't many facilities like it in the area, and many of them are booked a couple years in advance. We're just trying to be a little part of that market, and at the same time aid our church as best we can."
Mougianis said the hall can handle in excess of 300 people comfortably. "It's in the range of 5,000 square feet," he said. "We have a separate bar, handicap access and ample parking. We can accommodate many different types of events. And outside of our Greek festival, which is a couple weeks in June, the facility is available throughout the year."
Parise, meanwhile, said his goal isn't just to meet expectations, but to exceed them.
After five years in the catering business, "I don't want to say I don't get a little nervous, because I do. But overall, it's really an exciting opportunity. We've built up a reputation in the community, people know we provide really good food and really good service. It's hard to beat that combination, and we do it at a good price."