The Godfather of Bocce

Article excerpt

Restaurant owner introduced customers to his other passion

A family man. A restaurant owner.

These are the two titles Joe Grande, owner of the local Italian eatery Mona Lisa, likes to go by.

However, when talking with him at his Corydon Avenue restaurant he opened 30 years ago, another name seems fitting.

The Godfather of Bocce.

"I've never thought of it that way," said Grande in between a fit of laughter. "It's just a game I love to play."

Grande is at the midway point of his 18th season as organizer of the Mona Lisa bocce league, which runs Monday to Thursday evenings on two courts outside his eatery.

Bocce is similar to lawn bowling, with two teams of four members each facing off on a grass court. The goal is to bowl your team's four balls closer to the marker ball, the pallino, than the other team's to score points.

How did the long-standing league come to be?

By accident, according to Grande.

"It was an afternoon 17 years ago, we had finished lunch with my dad, and we decided to play bocce on the boulevard," he said. "We were having such a good time, and some customers walked by and asked what we were doing. They then asked us if they could play after dinner."

Joe agreed.

The enjoyment from the evening match proved enough to begin a league the following year.

It began with four teams.

"Then it grew to six, then eight," said Grande. "The next thing you knew we had as many as 24 teams playing. That's a lot of people."

Grande credits his father, Angelo, as the driving force behind the success of the league. His father has been teaching players since they first started, a passion Grande said is part of his family's heritage. …