Walking into Mondo at 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon, we expected the restaurant to be fairly empty and preparing for the 6 o’clock dinner rush. Yet, tables were quickly filling up with loyal customers, fresh New York style thin-crust pizzas were being taken out of the brick oven every few minutes, and the atmosphere was bustling with waiters hard at work. No one can deny the popularity of Mondo, especially among Wesleyan students. From their unique artisan pizzas to their famous eggplant fries, the menu at Mondo sets it apart from other Italian eateries in the area and draws a great deal of students and faculty.
We got the chance to talk to the manager, Keith Vibert, about how Mondo came to be so popular. The restaurant opened in September of 2010, after Vibert gained ten years of experience working in the food industry at Naples Pizza in Farmington, CT. Him and the owner at Naples, Kurt Kruczek, decided to start another restaurant, yet were not completely sure what it would turn out to be.
“We didn’t call it Mondo Pizza because we didn’t know what it would be,” Vibert mentioned. They even had a stage put in for live music, but today it is rarely used.
Eventually they settled on Italian-style cuisine, with an emphasis on pizza. They also built in a beer and wine bar, complete with 2 draft lines and micro-brewed bottles in rotation. Regardless, Vibert asserted that he wanted Mondo to be known as a family pizza place rather than a lively bar scene.
“I’d much rather get the soccer family or the Wes kids in between studying that are going to come every week,” Vibert insisted. When asked about attracting a late night drinking crowd, he stated “I want absolutely zero part of it.”
By the looks of their menu, they are definitely doing a good job of sticking to the Italian-American theme. From garlic bread to panini to pasta, they offer pretty much every Italian staple and cook nearly everything with fresh, local ingredients. Their cheese, for example, is from Cato Corner Farm in Colchester, CT—the same farm that supplies the cheese for Wesleyan’s Cheese Co-Op. They also make fresh mozzarella, cook their own dough and table bread (except for the gluten-free variety), and make their salad dressings from scratch. According to Vibert, him and his staff are on board for the new healthy food trends, such as offering whole wheat or gluten-free pizza crusts.
It is interesting to look at how the popularity of Mondo has grown over the years. It started off as just another restaurant on Main Street, not particularly drawing a large number of Wesleyan students. In fact, Vibert reminisced about passing out free slices of Mondo’s pizza outside of Exley, putting ads in the school planner, and spamming Wesleyan coaches and professors to attract customers. The first year it was open, barely anyone from Wesleyan knew what Mondo was. That all changed, however, when the restaurant developed a relationship with the women’s varsity soccer team. Thanks to several team dinners at the restaurant, word spread quickly among the student body that Mondo was a hot new place to eat out.
“About 25 to 30% of our customers are from Wesleyan or are because of Wesleyan, like students’ families in town for homecoming or commencement,” Vibert told us.
If you think you’re a loyal customer and you think you’ve tried it at all at Mondo, think again. Vibert told us that he rotates the menu four to five times a year with five or six new items. Not to worry, however, certain favorites will not be going anywhere. He promised us that Wesleyan’s favorite—the Truffle pizza—is considered an indispensable menu item, as is his personal favorite, the Arugula & Prosciutto artisan pie.
All in all, Mondo has become a prominent eatery on Main Street with a loyal customer base, much of which comes from the Wesleyan community. If you haven’t gotten the chance to taste one of their unique pizza pies, gourmet salads, or satisfying Italian dishes, be sure to stop by with friends or family for a night out at one of Middletown’s leading restaurants.