A break-in and robbery of a generational Culver City restaurant has left the family behind Pasta Sisters reeling. There’s money missing, but more important, so is the diary of Maria Giovanna, whom they called Gianna.
Along with checks and a few days’ worth of cash was the most cherished family heirloom of all: The diary belonging to chef Paola Da Re’s mother details decades of memories and recipes used at the Italian restaurant. It was also the family’s sole inheritance from Gianna.
“Honestly,” said Giorgia Sinatra, “we don’t really care about the other things. It was just about that.”
According to Sinatra, who is the creative director of Pasta Sisters and the granddaughter of Gianna, what appeared to be two assailants broke into the restaurant around 3:45 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 20; another, she suspects, was waiting in the car as a getaway driver.
The safe, secured into the ground, was removed with a saw, she says, and then was carried out of the restaurant, all contents still inside. She doubts her family will ever recover the diary. The artifact could be anywhere in the city, wherever the safe was eventually transported and opened.
The family declined to share further details given the active police investigation, but is doing what it can to spread the word: There is a $5,000 reward for the diary, and a hope that the robbers will exchange it for the money, or that a friend will, with no questions asked. Anyone with knowledge of the diary’s whereabouts is encouraged to email [email protected].
The family already feels overwhelmed by the support of the community, which has sent messages of encouragement and, in the case of nearby businesses and homes with security cameras, shared video footage in the hopes of establishing new leads; Sinatra hopes others in the Culver City area might check their own security footage for passing cars between 3:30 and 4:30 a.m. on Nov. 20.
Maria Giovanna was born in Padua, an ancient city in Northern Italy famed for its religious significance, art and architecture. It is where her four children were born, as well as her daughter Paola Da Re’s children, who would go on to open two restaurants with Da Re in Los Angeles.
Despite studying medicine in the hopes of becoming a doctor — a rarity for women in the town at that time — Gianna lived “a pretty simple life,” Sinatra says: Upon having children she devoted her life to her family and taught them how to cook, among other life skills. Over the years, she was diagnosed with multiple forms of cancer but continued to live, despite one doctor’s assurance that she had only a few months left. (She went on to live for two more decades.)
She used the diary to detail her own recipes, her family’s generational recipes, her memories and quips and life lessons: how to throw the perfect wedding, say, or how to be a great woman. She kept the diary as a young girl until her death in 1999.
When the Sinatras moved to America roughly a decade ago, the diary’s passage felt like a way to bring their grandmother with them as they began a new life. Sinatra also sees it as both a time capsule and a way to connect to a woman who was at times a mystery.
“She was a very kind person and she was also very private, but somehow she left so much in that diary about her,” she said. “And that was the only thing that she left to us.”
It was the only physical thing, though she left them much more than the diary. The family was inspired by her to start the restaurant in America, and sees Pasta Sisters as a celebration of her life and everything she taught them. They utilize many of the recipes passed down from and through her: The bolognese sauce and chocolate salami were hers, while the gnocchi recipe came from her mother.
“I feel that my grandma is everywhere in the restaurant because it’s just the passion that she transmitted about all of us,” Sinatra said. “To my mom and to us it’s imprinted in everything we do here at the restaurant.”