Jackie and Jeff Vanston

Jackie and Jeff Vanston

After 18 years of serving up some of the region’s best Italian dishes, Jeff and Jackie Vanston are changing things up at Mariano’s in Jessup. The restaurant, once known for its delicious veal, chicken, pasta and risotto will soon feature one-of-a-kind specialty items to tables around the region.

Read more about Mariano’s history and what to expect at the all-new Mariano’s Cucina and Provisions:

Q: What’s the history of Mariano’s?

A: In December of 2002 my wife Jaculin (Jackie) and I launched Mariano’s Cucina.

The name pays homage to my grandfather, Mariano Simoncelli, who instilled the love of Italian cooking in me. The concept of the restaurant we were shooting for was a friendly casual family place with a wide selection of Italian favorites and some upscale specials to cover everyone’s taste.

Our slug line was “Mariano’s, where there’s no strangers just friends we haven’t met.” We think after 18 years of meeting thousands of strangers that are now friends, we succeeded in what we set out for.

Q:How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your business?

A: When COVID-19 hit, we were able to maintain our staff and keep everyone working. We quickly transitioned into take out. Because of our loyal customers and just everyone wanting to support restaurants, we were very busy and that brought along our first obstacle — we couldn’t keep up with orders. Because we cook from scratch when a guests orders dinner in the dining room, it’s all timing. They may have a cocktail or a appetizer and then salad and then their entree. It gives us time to cook everything and serve it at a comfortable pace. With takeouts, we tried to get everything ready in less then 45 minutes so it makes it very difficult get dinners out in a timely fashion. Also with everyone in quarantine, they got used to eating between 5:30 and 6:30 so we weren’t able to do the same amount of dinners as we did when our dining room was open.

As it moved into spring, our next obstacle was how to make up income from some of our biggest events Mothers Day, Communions, Father’s Day, graduations and, most of all, Saint Ubaldo weekend, our busiest week of the year. We came up with some non-traditional revenue ideas. We did family dinners, parmigiana night for Father’s Day, we did a takeout clam bake and for St. Ubaldo we took preorders for everything we normally sold in our tent. All of our ideas were helpful in making up for some of our lost business, but it was still a big loss missing all those events.

The worst part of the COVID-19 pandemic was Dec. 18 when I tested positive for the virus. With my wife also contracting the virus, we had to close down ... we had to cancel all of our catering for Christmas and couldn’t do New Year’s Eve. We were both sick until the first week of January so we lost out on our Christmas and New Year’s business. We were very fortunate to have recovered from the virus. Hopefully the vaccine will put everything back on course.

Q: Where did the idea come from to change the business to a specialty market?

A: About three years ago, Jackie and I took a ride to check out an Italian market we had seen on the Food Network. The place was really great, so many different things and we loved it. On the way home, we couldn’t stop talking about it, how easy it would be to convert the restaurant to a market. We could still do our takeout catering, better hours for us, we wouldn’t need a big staff because lately we been having trouble finding good reliable kitchen help, (those) were some of the things we discussed. Then we started researching specialty markets in the area, there’s only a few the closest one being in Dunmore and nothing from there to Carbondale so there is definitely a need for one. Because we want to incorporate some of our popular menu items into the market in a grab and go manner we just decided on calling the market Mariano’s Cucina and Provisions.

In addition to our takeout catering we will be offering homemade hot and sweet Italian sausage (Jessup Style), house roasted porchetta, a deli case loaded with Italian meats such as prosciutto, lonza, sopresatta, capocollo, mortadella, bresola and assorted salumi. We will also have a large assortment of imported cheeses such as provolone, locatelli, Pecorino Romano, gorgonzola, Parmigiano Reggiano and fresh mozzarella just to name a few. We will offer a variety of olives, peppers and homemade salads. Some other items available like precooked chicken, veal and eggplant cutlets to go with the case full of our sauces and pastas like meat sauce, marinara, vodka, alfredo and our meatballs. Frozen pastas such as meat and cheese ravioli, potato gnocchi, manicotti, cappelletti and fettuccine. We will feature prepared take-home dinners like lasagna, chicken or veal piccata, marsala, milanese or calabrese and of course our traditional red, white and sopresatta risottos to name a few.

As for pantry items, we will carry a full line of Italian imported tomato products, imported dry pastas, extra virgin olive oils, aged balsamic vinegars, assorted tapenades and spreads, tuna, anchovies, sardines, crostini and crackers, spices, coffee, espresso and a assortment of Italian beverages. Fresh breads will be delivered daily from New York along with Italian cookies and fresh pastries such as cannoli, tiramisu and Juniors cheesecakes. We will also have imported Italian pottery and kitchen small wares like pasta machines and ravioli presses, espresso pots and much more.

Q: Why is Italian food so popular, here in NEPA and across the country?

A: I think it’s because of the large influx of Italians immigrating to Northeastern Pennsylvania and bringing their food and recipes with them. They were passed along from generation to generation. It’s a food that’s simply made with universal ingredients that are inexpensive and easily found. Although people will argue, it has a lot health benefits also.

I guess across the country it’s probably the most foreign but familiar cuisine there is. It’s very comfortable.

Q: When you’re at home relaxing, what are some of your favorite things to cook and eat?

A: On our days off Jackie is the head chef, she was raised in a half Italian (Calabrese) and half Russian family so I’m blessed with great wife who is a master of two cuisines. We were both raised with sauce on Sundays and we have that most of the time but I also get some pigs in the blanket, homemade pirogies, kielbasa and haluski sprinkled in. She is also a gifted baker so there’s always something special for dessert.

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