Bove’s makes new home in Milton

By NEIL ZAWICKI

The aroma of garlic bread overwhelms the parking lot at Bove’s on Route 7, even with the car doors closed. There’s a wall in the dining room covered with framed black and white photographs of Mark Bove’s extended family. The photos grace a dining room made up of the original components from Bove’s Cafe, a Burlington icon that stood for 78 years. 

Mark’s grandparents, Victoria and Louis Bove, immigrants from Naples, opened the cafe on Sunday, December 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was bombed.

“After that the cafe was never open on Sunday,” said Bove. He went on to describe the deep family tradition that made Bove’s special, and how he and his brother, Rick, wanted to preserve that spirit when they opened the new location, focusing on Bove’s signature sauces for wholesale and retail commerce.

“Grandma would cook for everyone,” said Bove of his family’s beginnings. “Every Sunday she would make a big pot of sauce and some bread and pasta and the whole block would come over and eat.”

When neighbor kids started leaving nickels and dimes to show their appreciation, Victoria decided she should open a place of her own, and so the cafe was born. Louis made wine in the cafe basement for a time, and together they had 13 children. Mark’s dad, Dickie Bove, was number 13. He took over the cafe in the 1950’s, keeping it going for 64 years. 

In 2008, the cafe caught the attention of producers at The Food Network, and Mark Bove found himself squaring off against a celebrity chef on the show “Throwdown! with Bobby Flay,” making his family’s deep dish lasagne. He lost to Flay, but gained a fair amount of gravitas for the experience. What had been lasagne night each Wednesday became lasagne every night because of the show. 

That brush with fame landed hm another spot on the show, “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” But Bove remained himself, an Italian son with a family restaurant, having learned enough from his dad to go up against Flay.

“I didn’t even know who Bobby Flay was before I went on that show,” he said. 

In fact, he and Rick call themselves “sauce boys,” a nod to their beginnings in the restaurant.

“Bobby Flay helped get us on the map,” said Bove. “But having a restaurant that was open for 78 years also helped.”

Dick Bove died in 2014, after a fight with cancer. It was his wish that Mark and Rick close the cafe before he died, so they did.

“On that last day, you could feel the emotion the cafe,” said Bove. “But dad told us to follow our dreams.”

The new location in Milton opened in 2016, but while it was under construction their dad got to see the outside of the building, but never got the chance to see the inside. Still, Mark is certain his dad is proud of what they’ve done.

“We preserved everything,” Bove said, explaining how the dinning space, and in fact the kitchen, and original oven and range top is there. The same pots and lasagne pans, in use since the 1940’s, still hang in the kitchen, and Bove shows off maybe the best artifact from the cafe’s beginnings: a hand carved wooden sauce spoon, made by his grandfather for Victoria, hangs on display in the dining room. The spoon is worn from decades of use, and has a veneer of kitchen grease. 

Today, Bove’s produces sauces in the tradition of Victoria, an arm of the business Mark Bove began in 1996. He originally made the sauces in New York, and is now quite proud to have the operation back in Vermont, running a sauce operation with six employees. 

Where Victoria started with a five-gallon pot for the neighbors, Mark and Rick Bove now produce 30,000 gallons each day, selling the brand at groceries and retail outlets down the Eastern Seaboard. Moving to such large production has its challenges, especially when it comes to preserving grandma’s recipes. But Bove and his his brother make sure to taste each batch before it goes out.

“The aspects of that homemade sauce are translated to each jar,” he said. “So we’ve taken that five gallon kettle of sauce and translated it to 600 gallon vats.

Beyond the sauces, Bove’s still feeds people in their dining room, hosting catered events for 25 guests regularly, and hosting an annual sit down dinner, on Dec. 7, to mark the cafe’s beginning. They’ve also held monthly “Flash Back Fridays,” where they offer their traditional fare as take out. Pop-up dinners are also in the works, but Bove wants those to be a surprise for the community.

“Milton has welcomed us with open arms,” he said. “I say we’re home, back here in Vermont. We’ve always been Bove’s of Vermont.”

Bove said he’s thrilled to be settled in Milton, and right on Route 7. 

“When we make sauces in the winter when the air is thick, people will smell it for half a mile away,” he said. “I always love it when people drive past and catch a whiff of the sauce and then call up and ask, ‘Are you cooking tonight?’”