FLINT TWP, MI — Walk into Italia Gardens and you will notice an array of photos capturing the history of the Albert Barone family.
Barone and wife Josephine started Italia Gardens in 1931 in Flint during the Great Depression.
He was from Sicily and emigrated to New York before moving to Flint to launch the city’s first Italian restaurant on North Saginaw Street and Second Avenue.
Barone was surrounded by hungry Flint residents, whose lives were flipped upside down from the depression, and his staple meal was spaghetti covered with a rich, traditional, Italian sauce that captured the city’s love. He died in 1964.
The business was passed down to his son Donald Haley, and after a few different locations, his grandson, Don Haley, established Italia Gardens in Flint Township, the current location in 1998.
Italia Gardens in Flint Township is located at 3273 Miller Road, with the business also having restaurants in Davison Township and Grand Blanc.
“We’ve always stayed true to our roots, but we have evolved and adapted to today’s more fast paced life,” Haley said. “We’re true to our recipes and core menu.”
The family once hosted civil rights leader Cesar Chavez for a dinner in the mid 1970s, and Haley’s father’s uncle, Ray Haley, played with legendary baseball player Babe Ruth on the Boston Red Sox in 1915 and 1916.
Haley’s father is a former county commissioner and once had the Genesee County minimum security jail named after him.
On a takeout basis only, Italia Gardens offers family pans, serving for five people salad bread and a choice of pasta.
Haley said anything made with their sweet tomato or meat sauce is a popular item — ranging from lasagna, spaghetti or mostaccoli. Italia Gardens also offers gluten free spaghetti.
Chicken alfredo and barbecue ribs are another staple at Italia Gardens.
Fresh salads come with every meal, along with homemade bread, and the sauces are made from scratch.
There are specials on each night, including Tuesdays where customers receive a free meal from its select menu with the purchase of an entrée and two beverages. Free entrée applies to the lower priced of the two.
On Wednesdays, there is 35¢ Pasta Night — purchase any dinner and get an original spaghetti dinner for just 35 cents — the same price it was in 1931. Customers must purchase two beverages.
“We’re not trying to be a white tablecloth kind of a place,” Haley said. “We want it to be a family casual dining atmosphere.”
The menus across all locations are mostly the same, but the Flint Township location does additionally offer a beef-based spitini, which is described as breaded steak on a skewer.
“We know people have a very emotional attachment to our food,” Haley said. “We have a strong generational following.”
The restaurant is open Monday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m.
Follow Italia Gardens on Facebook here.
Read more at The Flint Journal:
Here’s how Martin Luther King Jr. Day is being celebrated, honored in Flint
FeedMe Michigan + Cherry Street Eats offers unique meal prep service in Genesee County
Michigan’s Best Local Eats: Da Edoardo offers authentic Italian cuisine, date night specials
Genesee County Parks aims to rebuild steam locomotive, hiring workers