When people walk into Bove’s manufacturing plant in Milton, they may not expect to see company president Mark Bove sitting in the next room.
But that exact scenario plays out all the time, Bove said.
“I’m always here,” he said. “Always here.”
Bove is the third generation to run the iconic sauce line, bred from the famous Bove’s Italian restaurant in Burlington that closed in December 2015. He’s since opened a 14,640-square foot manufacturing facility in Milton’s Catamount Industrial Park, and last summer, received Act 250 approval for a 60-seat special event dining hall.
The company has only just started operating the hall, and Bove is quick to clarify it isn’t the restaurant reincarnated. It’s open for special occasions for parties of 25 or more. But that doesn’t stop people from calling up when they see a bunch of cars parked outside.
“The phone will ring and [people will] say, ‘Hey, are you guys serving tonight?’” he said. “If our regulars heard we had this up here, they’d be calling me more to get their Bove’s fix.”
They can, however, stop in to see how their favorite sauces are made. A giant window gives visitors a direct view into the plant where the company makes its famous marinara, meatballs and more.
They can see the dining hall, furnished with original Bove’s booths, a black-and-white tiled wall that harkens to the restaurant’s art deco exterior and the neon glowing sign that beckoned to countless college kids looking for a hot meal on a dime.
On the far wall is Grandma Victoria Bove’s wooden spoon, mounted to a frame. Bove’s grandfather, Louis, carved it with his pocketknife, and after years of sauce making, it’s stained orange and oily to the touch.
And sometimes, they just see Bove. Last Friday afternoon, a man came in and called into the echoing dining room, “Can you buy lasagna here?” Then, realizing who he was asking, said, “I think I’ve talked to you on Facebook before.”
Indeed, Bove often interacts with fans using his personal profile on the Bove’s business page. It’s part of his promise to himself to not “be this pretentious president of a company that’s too good to talk to anybody.
“I hate that,” he added.
Customers, including last Friday’s lasagna shopper, often ask if he misses the restaurant. He answers them honestly: He doesn’t.
After 34 years of split shifts – waking up early, heading to work, eating lunch, going home to nap, showering and going back to work – Bove is comfortable working a single shift and making it home in time for dinner with his 4-year-old daughter.
The plant produces Bove’s six pasta sauces four days a week. It’s also a co-packing facility for other companies, making barbecue sauce and dressings on off-days.
Bove is quick to credit the company’s success to his father, Dick, who worked in the family business for 64 years, starting when he was just 13. The new facility pays homage to the Bove family history, namely with a memorial wall decorated with portraits of Bove matriarchs and patriarchs.
The display plays tribute to old and new, a dichotomy Bove treasures and preserves.
“Memories with food are just so sacred,” he said. “That’s something I wanted to nurture and cradle up here in Milton.”
Though the facility has been operational for two years, Bove still hasn’t hosted a grand opening “sauce-a-palooza.” He’s waiting for a Boston-based company to finish a documentary that centers on the café’s last day.
A preview is finished, though, and Bove pulled up a chair and asked his staffer to hit play. Clips of Bove’s devotees flash on the screen as a voice-over from Bove’s brother, Rick, explains just how much the little café on Pearl Street meant to them.
This summer, the restaurant building will be torn down. The brothers have plans to build and lease out a 76-unit hotel there, and it will feature the café’s chandelier, wall sconces and giant mural of Venice inside.
As the video played, Bove excused himself and went outside, where a dump truck driver waited for his direction on where to place two large rocks. One will sit at the entrance, and the other will display a placard in memory of Bove’s father.
The video ended and restarted as Ken Bora, a Bove’s cook since 1982, put finishing touches on giant pans of lasagna for a catered party the next day.
Outside, in his signature blue dress shirt, Bove had rolled up his sleeves and grabbed a shovel, siting the rock just so.
“I want it to be perfect,” he said.