'Moonstruck,' Played out in Collingswood
Reunited nearly 15 years ago, it's been a creative adventure for the star-crossed couple behind Sapori and The Artemisian.
It’s not easy to parlay a transatlantic romance into two successful businesses, three kids and a 13-year marriage—especially when your future wife doesn't know you're waiting, an ocean away.
Back then, Franco Lombardo was sweating it out in the kitchen of La Locanda del Ghiottone, a well-reviewed South Philadelphia trattoria. A year had gone by since his brief romance with Marisa, who had come to Philadelphia from the University of Rome, and returned just as quickly.
She might not have looked back, but he had never stopped thinking about her. Then one day, a year later, she came walking up 3rd Street.
Where he lived and worked. Where she'd just rented an apartment from which to finish out her studies.
“I had no intention of staying," she said. "I had a round-trip ticket. I was back to graduate.
"He said, ‘I’ve been waiting for you’,” Marisa said. "I was shocked.”
Shocked—but married two years later. Another two years after that, the couple came to Collingswood with their new son, Sebastiano, and opened Sapori.
In the 11 years since, they've grown their family alongside their family businesses.
“The restaurant, the kids—everything happened at once,” Marisa said.
As Sebastiano was eventually joined by siblings Sonia and Simona, so too did Sapori grow into one of the most celebrated Italian restaurants in a town of Italian restaurants. Now The Artemisian, Marisa’s "upcycled" antique jewelry line, is coming into its own as well.
"Over the last 10 years, I’ve been playing," she said. "Now I can dedicate the time to it required to make a business."
At the heart of both enterprises is the Lombardos' shared Italian culture. In the kitchen, Franco draws upon the essence of his native Sicily (sapori is Italian for "flavors"); at the crafter’s bench, Marisa’s bi-continental upbringing shines through the antique elements she recombines to make her work.
“It’s fun to be able for both of us to have that creative energy," she said.
“It creates a spark,” Franco agreed. “I always say, even if it doesn’t go anywhere, it’s the passion that you get out of it. It charges your battery to make it go more.”
Fortunately, Franco pointed out, Marisa’s work is “quality stuff” that’s found an audience in the region, whether at Anthropologie, Primadonna boutique in Marlton or pop-up trunk shows, like one they held at Sapori in December.
'Not the kind of piece you can buy at the mall'
“Each piece is unique and interesting, and not the kind of piece you can buy at the mall,” said Stu Einer, whose wife is a repeat customer of Marisa and often gives her jewelry as gifts.
Marco Menna, who waits tables at Sapori, was making a Christmas present of Marisa's jewelry for his mother, who “likes authentic items.” He said the restaurant is "an awesome place to work because the family is always here."
"It’s good to work for a family man,” Menna said.
And neighbors Josh Cook, Rodney Russen and Erik Frykholm, who brewed a small batch of beer for the event, agreed that whether the Lombardos' story opened in Philadelphia, Italy, or somewhere in between, it was written in the borough.
“Absolutely,” Frykholm said. “It’s Collingswood that makes it happen.”