Heavy portions of rich savory sauces, pizza tossers belting out lyrics to “Ain’t That A Kick In The Head,” lovely ladies serving wine in rock glasses, music turned up, energy buzzing in the air. That was Mambo Italiano ten years ago. Not much has changed from this classic Mambos experience locals and tourists have come to love in the little old house just off the main drag where restaurant dreams became a reality in May, 2001.
Putting forth every dime in their pockets and scrounging up used equipment and borrowed pans, the founders of Mambo Italiano did everything they could to get the doors open and start slinging pasta. Even today, under that red tablecloth you might find an old acquired trailhead deli table from down the street. Their hope was that a small resort town in Montana would embrace immigrant style Southern Italian cuisine.
They didn’t need to worry. The nightly line out the door proved that Whitefish had heartily embraced both the atmosphere and the cuisine. The fact that there were only 42 seats in the whole restaurant could have had something to do with the line too. But, even with no air conditioning, they waited. Brad Townsend, one of the founders and still the brains behind the Mambos concept, says they thought, “Let’s get these people fed. We have to sacrifice the tree in front of the building. It’s the only way to create more room.” That decision created both a ton of friends and a ton of enemies, but it had to be done and the enclosed patio was built.
There have been many necessary upgrades and expansions over the last ten years, but the crew at the original Whitefish Mambos still hold tight to that mom and pop feel. Especially the lovely Rodlynn Chun, whose dedication and strong personality have been a part of the heart and soul of Mambos since its inception. “I enjoy coming to work,” she says. “Every time it’s a chance for me to be part of someone’s enjoyable evening, and I get to work with great people at a cool spot.”
Part of the classic Mambos experience is coloring on the paper table covers and hoping it lands a prime spot on the ceiling. The first drawing was tacked over a booth in the main dining area when it was just too good to throw away. It caught on and soon kids and adults alike were requesting their “artwork” be hung.
One thing is for sure, it’s always lively at Mambos. Next week is no different. To celebrate their ten year anniversary, Mambos is using a “Throwback Menu” with prices from ten years ago.
Go on in, enjoy the reduced prices, the spirited atmosphere, and wish them a “Happy Ten Year Anniversary.” The Throwback Menu will be available from May 2nd – 7th.
In early summer, 2007, Mambos opened its second location in Missoula, MT followed by Hayden, ID in spring of 2008, Billings, MT in winter, 2010 and most recently Spokane, WA in March of this year. Visit the Ciao Mambo website or follow their Facebook Page for more information.