This week, Lisa Giungo (jun-go) -- affectionately known around town simply as Lisa G and famous for her Bowl of (meat)Balls -- sets the record straight about the closing of her namesake restaurant, reveals secret techniques, and shares a sandwich recipe some may remember from Lisa G's.
Born and raised in Philadelphia in a predominantly Italian family, Lisa G came to Phoenix fifteen years ago. Her father was an excellent cook and her inspiration to take to this field with no prior experience. Her first job was at Carolyn Ellis's Arcadia Farms and she eventually opened up Lisa G's Cafe and Wine Bar. After selling her restaurant two years ago, Lisa is back with Ellis and now runs the new Marketplace Cafe, just across the street from the main Arcadia Farms location in Old Town Scottsdale.
In her blood: I came from a cooking family. [My father's] two aunts used to cook for the Monseigneur of Philadelphia...Then my mom, her mother was a phenomenal baker.
Breaking free: I always wanted to be in school for cooking and my father wouldn't let me. I was his only daughter and he said, "No daughter of mine is going to be stuck in the kitchen!" And it was just always in my heart and my soul that I really wanted to do it...I sold clothing for fifteen years and worked in high end specialty boutiques and when I came here...I thought, "You know what, I'm just gonna try and apply in a restaurant."
And that's what brought you to Arcadia Farms?
Within two weeks I got the job here, not even really looking to get a responsible job and I've always been a responsible person so it just kinda happened and I thought, "Oh, I can't give this up."
Meanwhile, back home...
Two weeks later I called my Dad and my Mom and I said, "I'm not coming home would you send my stuff out?" My dad didn't speak to me for a year he was so hurt...He was devastated that I left him!
A place of her own: My father had been sick for a long time and I hadn't been home for three years since I had opened the restaurant. Someone approached me to buy it and I just felt it was a sign and I really wanted to be back east and spend more time with my Dad....It's something I felt I really need to do. I miss my restaurant terribly but I don't have any regrets.... I hope I have the opportunity to do it again one day but right now I'm still going through some healing myself.
What do you miss?
I miss my customers...I never realized how much people really did enjoy my restaurant until it was gone.
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Celebrity status: To me, here in Phoenix I'm somebody. Back home I'm just Lisa. I can go into a restaurant, into a market anywhere and I see three or four people that know me, like I'm a celebrity here. Not that I really want to be, but it's a nice feeling to know that people really do like you and what you've done and miss what you do. I mean, I sold [Lisa G's], I didn't go out of business, so I was a success at what i did.
How much of what we get at Arcadia Marketplace is actually made by you? I will make breakfast sandwiches, sandwiches, your coffee drink, I'll make your pastry, I'll harass you.... It kinda feels like it's mine but it's not. [Ellis] lets me be me and lets me do what I want for her. She knows that I know her look, I know her style, I've been around her long enough to know what she likes and I take it as if it's mine.
Check back tomorrow for the second part of our interview with Lisa G and learn what's really behind the Balls.