Mom's Italian Village at 421 East Cota Street, Santa Barbara, has been a Santa Barbara tradition since the 1920s. The story begins in Italy.
Frank Signor and his wife, Prima "Mom" Melchori, left Italy in 1920 and 1921 respectively. When they first arrived in Santa Barbara, Frank worked on several Montecito estates. Then Prima cooked and Frank baked at a boarding house for immigrants at Chapala and Canon Perdido Streets. After the 1925 quake, Frank opened a grocery store on Haley Street but lost it during the Depression. They then purchased a house with a garden at 421 East Cota Street, which became an Italian boarding house, with Prima preparing the meals. According to her daughter, Olga, "she was a business woman."
The architect/builder, D'Alphonso, using the garden area built a little square-room cafe off the house with a small lunch counter, which also served beer and wine. The Signor family continued to live in the house. "Out of nothing," according to Olga, "she could make a great meal." Eventually, a small group of men (Jimmy Dominick, and several Italian salesmen, fishermen and stonemasons) ate here. They referred to Prima as "Momma." "If someone knocked after we were closed, Mom would say, 'we're closed,' and then opened the door to serve them."
Frank Signor, who was now a baker at the Maccianti Bakery, delivered bread to the cafe. He built a boccie-ball court across the street from the cafe where Olga waited tables and served beer and wife. "We didn't have barbecues," Olga says, "we had picnics--sometimes at the Stow Ranch."
Olga Signor attended Lincoln School where she met Wilson Giovanacci who later became her husband. For thirty-eight years, Wilson worked for Interstate (Weber) Bakeries and tended bar on Saturday nights. Mom did most of the cooking and when a lady helper quit, Olga began to help her mother prepare the meals. "Mom put four hands of salt in tomato sauce; my hands are smaller and I use five. At one time, we served lobster, abalone, lamb chops, and T-bones, but we cut down because everyone asked for pasta." According to Olga, "For years no one knew my mom had a daughter, for I was always in the kitchen."
Source: From Santa Barbara Corral of the Westerners Keepsake, December 1, 1994, "Mom's Italian Village." excerpted from an oral interview with Olga Giovannacci, 1994 By Jim Norris.