the Italian issue

The Supper Bowl

P ulling into theparking lot of Impastato’s Restaurant in Metairie, tucked behind the Morning Call Coffee Shop just off 17th Street and Severn, the first thing that stands out are two oversized black and gold fleur-de-lis, the same design the New Orleans Saints have emblazoned on their helmets. And posted on the door are 8½ by 11-inch sheets of business paper advertising the team’s three road game trips for which the restaurant’s chef/owner, Joe Impastato, is organizing again this coming NFL season, much like he has for years. To say the guy, affectionately known as “Joey,” is a fan of the team is like saying Drew Brees is a great quarterback. It is one of Impastato’s undeniable passions, joined by his passion for people, his family and his Italian heritage. And he knew little of football when he first came to America. Sicilians have been arriving in New Orleans in significant numbers since the 1830s. Such was the case in 1956 when an 18- year old Impastato arrived, sponsored by by Mary Beth Romig + photos by Frank Aymami

a relative by the same name and from the same village town in Sicily, whose family until recently owned and managed the legendary Napoleon House on Chartres Street in the French Quarter. “Those first 90 days were hard,” recalls Impastato. “I really missed home and my family.” He took on jobs where he could, eventually going to work at Napoleon House, living upstairs for years. In 1960, he went back to his native Sicily, returning with his brother Sal in tow. Later, he went to work at the original La Louisiane, where he lasted for 19 years, eventually working his way to maitre d’. He would later go to work at the legendary Tommy Moran’s in that same capacity. In his role as maitre d’, he met and befriended quite a collection of noted New Orleanians of the day, among them John Mecom, Sr., who made a fortune in the oil industry, and his son, John Mecom, Jr. When New Orleans was awarded its NFL franchise in 1966, the first majority owner

of the team was Mecom Jr., who at the age of 26 was an avid sports fan. “I grew up with soccer, but I was so excited when I heard Mr. Mecom had purchased a football team,” recalls Impastato. “I bought two of the first season tickets to go on sale, and I was in Tulane Stadium when John Gilliam took the opening kickoff in the team’s first game and ran it back for a touchdown. I was hooked, and I’ve been involved ever since.” There is a twinkle in his eye as he remembers that game, sitting in the office of his own Metairie restaurant, opened in April 1979 when the area known as “Fat City”was in its heyday. His office walls, shelves and nearly every inch of flat surface are filled with Saints and sports memorabilia. It is only at hint at what is included in the restaurant’s décor. Our conversation is interrupted by a deliveryman who is waiting for Impastato to sign an invoice.He doesn’t mind the wait as he peruses the array of photographs of legendary sports figures that decorate the office walls.



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