For centuries, portraits of the influential, the powerful and the revered have been commissioned and hung on walls in tribute.
“Every restaurant that I’ve had — and I’ve had restaurants for 38 years — I prominently display a picture of my Nonna, my grandmother, because she was my inspiration,” Hanna explained to Global News.
“And one day, as I’m hanging her picture up, I’m thinking, ‘Oh! I know there are so many women like her that deserve to have a spot where they get seen.”
And with that, the idea for ‘The Nonna Wall’ was born. It is the eatery’s famous and highly visual tribute to hundreds of remarkable women — bearing more than 400 framed photographs of the mothers and grandmothers who have made an impact on their children’s lives.
“We’ve invited all of our guests to bring a framed picture of their mother to us and we will find a place for her on our wall,” said Hanna.
So many requests have flooded in, the Nonna Wall has begun to spill over to other walls in the restaurant.
There are pictures of mothers of world leaders, like former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s mom.
“He brought her picture here himself!” said Hanna.
There are also pictures of mothers on this wall whose impact is still felt long after they’re gone.
“I have one mom who passed away at a very young age. Her four sons come here a few times a year — just so they can sit beside her picture, and that’s a comfort to them.”
And in that same spirit of selflessness mothers often embody, Julia is using ‘The Nonna Wall’ to give back this Mother’s Day — in the true spirit of the restaurant’s namesake, ‘Ritorno’–which in English, means ‘return’.
“For every framed picture we got for Mother’s day from our guest, we’re going to donate a meal to ‘Ritorno Gives,” said Hanna.
‘Ritorno Gives’ is an initiative Julia and her three sons started during the pandemic to feed those hardest hit. The restaurant donates meals to charities like Meals on Wheels, and more.
“For our front-line hospital workers or anyone–anyone who needs a meal,” stressed Hanna. She says it’s her way of paying homage to the mothers and grandmothers — who often made sure others were fed, before themselves.
“For us, it’s our way of saying thank you to these remarkable women that made sure that we weren’t hungry and took care of us. So we want to continue that tradition by honouring them,” said Hanna.
Like many other restaurant owners, Hanna has felt the pandemic’s economic blow. Yet, more than 3,500 meal donations later, she still gives.
As for that grit, resolve and generosity Hanna has? She describes them as gifts passed down to her from her own mother.
“My mother and her two sisters, I can’t even begin to describe their strength and resilience,” Hanna told Global News. “They suffered post-war in Italy, and they had hardships when they arrived in this country. But the one unifying force that they had was that they knew they had each other — and they knew they needed each other. It was never about ‘things’ for them … it was always about what mattered.”
They are among the many women Hanna aims to celebrate, not just on Mother’s Day, but every day.