A restaurant robbery leaves the Pasta Sisters in search of lost family recipes

A burglary and robbery at a Culver City generational restaurant has left the family behind Pasta Sisters reeling. Money is missing, but more importantly, the diary of Maria Giovanna, whom they called Gianna.

Along with checks and a few days’ worth of cash, there was the most precious family heirloom of all: the diary of chef Paola Da Re’s mother, detailing decades of memories and recipes used at the Italian restaurant. It was also Gianna’s only family heirloom.

“Honestly,” said Giorgia Sinatra, “we don’t really care about other things. That was pretty much it.

According to Sinatra, who is the creative director of Pasta Sisters and Gianna’s granddaughter, what appeared to be two muggers burst into the restaurant around 3:45 a.m. on Sunday, November 20; another, she suspects, was waiting in the car as the getaway driver.

The safe, fixed in the floor, was removed with a saw, she said, and then carried out of the restaurant, with all the contents still inside. She doubts her family will ever get the diary back. The artifact could be anywhere in the city, wherever the safe was eventually transported and opened.

The family declined to share further details given the active police investigation, but are doing what they can to get the word out there is a $5,000 reward for the newspaper and hope the thieves will exchange it for cash, or a friend will, no questions asked. Anyone familiar with the whereabouts of the newspaper is encouraged to email [email protected].

The family already feels overwhelmed with support from the community, who have sent messages of encouragement and, in the case of nearby businesses and homes with security cameras, shared video footage in hopes of establish new paths; Sinatra hopes others in the Culver City area will be able to verify their own security footage for cars passing between 3:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. on Nov. 20.

The family behind the Italian restaurant is offering a $5,000 reward for the returned newspaper.

(Georgia Sinatra)

Maria Giovanna was born in Padua, an ancient city in northern Italy famous for its religious significance, art and architecture. It was there that his four children were born, as well as the children of his daughter Paola Da Re, who would go on to open two restaurants with Da Re in Los Angeles.

Although she studied medicine in hopes of becoming a doctor – a rarity for women in the city at that time – Gianna lived “a pretty simple life”, says Sinatra: After having children, she dedicated his life to his family and taught them how to cook, among other life skills. Over the years, she was diagnosed with several forms of cancer, but she continued to live, despite being assured by a doctor that she only had a few months left. (She went on to live for another two decades.)

She used the diary to detail her own recipes, her family’s generational recipes, memories, jokes and life lessons: how to have the perfect wedding, say, or how to be a great woman. She kept the diary as a young girl until her death in 1999.

When the Sinatras moved to America about a decade ago, passing the diary looked like a way to bring their grandmother with them as they started a new life. Sinatra also sees it as both a time capsule and a way to connect with a woman who was sometimes a mystery.

“She was a very nice person and she was also very private, but somehow she left so much about herself in this diary,” she said. “And that’s the only thing she left us.”

It was the only physical thing, though she left them more than just the diary. The family was inspired by her to open the restaurant in America and view Pasta Sisters as a celebration of her life and all that she taught them. They use many recipes handed down by her and by her: Bolognese sauce and chocolate salami were hers, while the gnocchi recipe came from her mother.

“I feel like my grandma is all over the restaurant because that’s just the passion she passed on to all of us,” Sinatra said. “For my mother and for us, it’s imprinted in everything we do here at the restaurant.”

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