Flint is ripe with tradition and history, a fact Brigitte Hawley knows well. Hawley along with her husband, Mike, have owned and operated Latina Restaurant and Pizzeria for the last 22 years.
The previous owners Duilio and Mary Costanza opened the restaurant off of Bristol Road on Valentine’s Day, 1967. Duilio Costanza immigrated to Flint from the Italy’s Podrica region, which according to Hawley, is where the style of Italian-American food in this area originated.
It is still the morning and the place is quiet, yet the smell of garlic butter is rolling out from the back of this Flint classic. Hawley explains that it is consistency that many of her customers look for.
“I think people come back because we offer a different experience from the chains and we have regulars come every day because they know they’re getting more quality than what they’ll find someplace else,” Hawley says.
Almost on cue a regular walks in the door.
“I’m going all the way up to Calumet this week to see my grandson,” the woman says. “He insisted I get some of your pizza.”
Hawley laughs. “This happens a lot. You’ll have people who move away, but will come back for the pizza, the lasagna or the antipasto.”
The lasagna comes out oven fresh with baked in cheese. Your mouth waters before the dish hits the table. Dig your fork in deep to get to the layers of sauce and beef that slice like butter. The garlic, red sauce, and different cheeses make for a feast at lunch time. No one will think less of you for getting box to save the treat for later. Or for eating it all.
Hawley looks around from her perch in the corner, like a hawk surveying the land.
“Our slogan is: 'Every topping in every bite,'” she says. “They’re loaded. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting a pie or six-sided pizza, they’re going to come loaded.”
Hawley’s favorite for lunch is the antipasto salad: “We don’t make it like most places,” she says. “Pepperoncini, green olives, mushrooms, but what our customers tend to like most is the rolled meats or our big slices of cheese.”
The owner doesn’t skip a beat when she talks about what keeps her going after 22 years in business. “It’s my customers. It’s my staff,” she says with tears welling in her eyes.
“We have some regulars that have been here longer than we’ve owned the place,” wiping another tear from her eye. “You’ve got to understand that it’s our people here, it’s the love they put into the food.”
Latina’s can accommodate most large parties at a moments notice and same day catering orders.
“We can take parties—30, 40, 50 people doesn’t upset us. We can do it.” Hawley said, the restaurant does a lot more catering these days, where, “if you need a pan that feeds 25-30 people in less than 40 minutes we can do that, too.”
Hawley said that when she and her husband took over, they made it a point to stay consistent. You don’t mess with success, she says. From the food preparation to the interior set up, it’s mostly the same.
“We’ve made gradual changes to the decor, but I’ll always get the occasional hate letter when I change something,” she says laughing.
She understands, though. It’s just that ripe tradition and history.
“Its like you are caretaker of people's history. They are invested in this place,” Hawley says. “So even in the hard times, it’s a reminder that it’s not like it just belongs to me—it belongs to a bigger family.”
Latina Restaurant and Pizzeria is located at 1370 W. Bristol Road. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and noon to 9 p.m. on Sundays.
For more information, www.latinaresturant.com