Mary Susan Cashio admits that opening a restaurant was never a childhood dream of hers. But as she sits on the patio of her newly opened Italian bistro, she can’t help but smile at how everything fell into place.
“The stars were aligned at the right time and here we are,” she said.
Cashio’s restaurant Cashio’s Meatball Market opened October 3 at its location in the Lakeview district. The restaurant serves Italian cuisine with a focus on meatballs. Cashio said she had the idea for the restaurant while living in New York, but she wanted to bring something back to her hometown that it had never seen before.
“While I lived in New York, I would tell my dad about restaurants that I would find up [there] that Birmingham was missing out on,” she said. “I would tell him, ‘This idea would kill it in Birmingham!’ and he would be like, ‘Yeah, I agree, but you’re crazy if you think you’re going to get me on board to help you open a restaurant.’ But when I came back home I just kept pushing the idea of bringing a concept that Birmingham was missing.”
That concept was to replicate her Grandma Angela’s meatball recipe and give customers the option to build their meal to their personal preferences. The menu consists of five different types of meatballs for meat and veggie lovers alike. Customers then get to choose whether they want their meatball traditional-style with a carbohydrate and sauce or on a sandwich. Customers that have trouble deciding can opt for a meatball flight.
Cashio feels the build-your-meal style of the restaurant is what Birmingham residents will be most drawn to. “When you get meatballs, typically it’s because you ordered spaghetti,” Cashio said. “You might not have ordered the meatballs — they just kind of come on the plate with spaghetti. So I think people like the idea of choosing whatever you want. [And] I think there [are] enough options on the menu where you can [keep coming] back and not get bored with it.”
Cashio adds that while the overall theme for the restaurant is Italian food, customers can create whatever combination of tastes they wish. “You can make [your dish] so Italian across the board if you want,” she added. “Or you can order meatloaf style with the chicken meatball, marsala sauce, and mashed potatoes. You can have Italian and I can get American if I wanted.”
The restaurant’s motto, “Life’s a ball,” sets the tone of the restaurant and gives customers a sneak peek at her personality as well, Cashio said.
“’Life’s a ball’ is the epitome of me,” she said. “That’s how I live my life. I live it to the fullest and I wanted that to come through with the restaurant.”
Cashio’s oversaw all of the aesthetic qualities of the restaurant, from the giant drawing of a woman made of pasta (dubbed by Cashio as “Betty Spaghetti”) to the wall-length murals of famous singers in the restrooms, both painted by local artist Shane Boteler. “I got stuck on a Diana Ross mural that I saw on Pinterest and I couldn’t get off of it,” she said. “So we have like Dolly Parton, Janis Joplin, Diana Ross and Amy Winehouse in the men’s room and in the ladies room we have singers like Frank Sinatra, Prince, Morrissey and Johnny Cash.”
The restaurant has been open for a little over a week and Cashio said the reception has been encouraging. “We’ve been slammed! I did not know that so many people liked meatballs as much as I do!” she laughed.
Expectations of a positive welcome had been shaky, though. “We were all very skeptical of how it was going to go,” she said. “It was either going to be a huge hit or we were going to fail. We just didn’t know.”
The restaurant’s existence is a combination of Cashio’s drive and her parents’ unwavering support. Cashio said that her mother and the restaurant’s head chef spent over a month trying to perfect the family meatball recipe. Cashio believes that all of their hard work has paid off. The meatballs even received a “two-thumbs-up” from her Grandmother Angela. “We haven’t nailed the spaghetti she wants, but she’s 91 so she’s going to be very set in her spaghetti ways. We told her she is allowed to bring her own box of whatever spaghetti she likes and we’ll make it for her,” Cashio laughed.
Cashio credits the menu’s fresh style to a creative collaboration between her and the head chef, Grayson Taft. Taft joined the Cashio team shortly after leaving the restaurant Primeaux Cheese and Vino and Cashio said he was “instrumental” in the early stages of getting the restaurant started. “We definitely lucked out with him,” said Cashio.
“I gave Grayson a lot of creative freedom after we nailed down the classics,” she continued. “As long as it was in a ball and it stayed in our price range, I was willing to taste anything that they wanted to try. The special today is a catfish meatball! It sounds weird, I know, but it’s really good. So he’s got so many ideas for specials and I have ideas for specials that I’m sure he’ll take and make better.”
Cashio said that she wants the people of Birmingham to know how proud she is that her idea has come to life. “I am very proud of it. I am very excited that it’s finally here,” she said. “I talked about opening it for so long I never thought it would actually come to life. It wasn’t ever my big dream. I was doing something totally different. But I’m real excited and I hope people are as excited as we are to bring something new to Birmingham.”
Cashio’s Meatball Market is located 728 29th St. S. For reservations or further questions call 205-578-6090 or visit their website, cashiosmeatballmarket.com.