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La cucina paradiso

Nonna Elena

Nonna Elena owners Joanne Benyo and Lu Matrascia have taken their love for everything Italian to new heights. Pictured above in their store in East Sandwich, they also offer cooking classes in their home and immersive tours of Italy. Photo by Teagan Anne

The owners of Nonna Elena in East Sandwich are turning Cape Cod kitchens into slices of heaven

A great idea can have the power to take on a life of its own, or in the case of Lu Matrascia and her wife, Joanne Benyo, a great idea can transform lives—three, in fact.

One fateful evening in 2013 when Matrascia and Carlo Zarri—a friend who is a hotel and restaurant atelier and visits the couple regularly from his home in Italy—were finishing a delicious truffle dinner, an idea became a plan, and that plan became a way of life. Maybe it was the mystical magic of the truffles, but the evening became a pivotal moment in each of their lives. As Matrascia tells it, “Carlo lamented the state of the Italian economy and said he wanted to help his friends back home. He said, ‘I want to start to export Italian goods.’ I said, ‘If you want to export, I want to import.’” And as they say in Italian, ecco fatto—it’s done!

Once Carlo, Lu and Joanne decided on the initial products to introduce to an American market, CLJ Imports was born. Lu and Joanne became regulars at the local farmers markets across the Mid Cape, and their high-quality olive oil, pastas, cheeses and other staples of Italian cuisine were continually met with an enthusiastic following. It didn’t take long to realize a more formal operation was needed to meet the increasing demand of items the trio had curated for the Cape Cod market. “Our loyal customers would continually ask us, ‘Where is your store?’” Matrascia recalls. “I would tell them we didn’t have a store. And they would tell us that they wanted to buy from us during the week, not just weekends.”

Eventually in 2014, Matrascia and Benyo rented a small space in the village of Yarmouth Port. “It was a teeny shop,” she says. “If you could find it, if you could find parking, if you could make your way down a little garden path to the front door, we proved that people would come and buy things.”

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