THE FAMILY RESTAURANT ON HIGHWAY 90
by Mary-Elizabeth Lough
Lisa Mosca (SW *09, PHTM *10) always knew she wanted to help people. It’s what led her to pursue her dual Master of Social Work and Master of Public Health degrees from Tulane University. And it was that same commitment to caring for others — her family and the devoted community of Mosca’s diners — that led her back into co-running the family business, Mosca’s Restaurant, with her mother. What she didn’t know was how her background in public health and her career running the family business would collide in 2020.
“I felt more of a personal responsibility because I have more of [a public health] background. I felt like I needed to be even more careful because I have all this education behind me, and I have the responsibility to keep my people safe as much as I can — my employees and my mom and my customers — because I know better.”
And so, like her grandparents, Provino and Lisa Mosca, who made it work when their planned West Bank location fell through and they found themselves out on Highway 90, or like her parents, Johnny and Mary Jo Mosca, who built Mosca’s Restaurant into a James Beard award-winning institution, Lisa Mosca took part in another family tradition. This one was as familiar and essential as the recipe for “Shrimp Mosca” — she rose to the challenge and found a way to make it work.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit New Orleans, Lisa reflects, “I was probably hysterically paranoid — I was like, ‘Nobody touch anyone!’” But her self-diagnosed paranoia was rapidly replaced by the measured caution of her Tulane public health education and deep commitment to those in the extended Mosca’s community. “We didn’t open when they allowed restaurants to start seating. We waited. When we opened, we really spaced capacity, lots of cleaning and obviously masks.
I felt like I needed to be even more careful because I have all this education behind me, and I have the responsibility to keep my people safe as much as I can.
–Lisa Mosca (SW *09, PHTM *10)
“Part of it felt like, ‘Is any of this working?’ But we were going to try our best to be as safe as we could. It was difficult, but it was a great kind of balancing act and learning experience,” says Lisa. And, as with many things Moscan, the proof is in the sauce — neither Lisa nor her mom Mary Jo contracted COVID-19.
Through COVID-19, through Hurricane Katrina, through three generations and counting — at Mosca’s, two things are consistent — food and family. It’s a philosophy centered on the things that matter, and one that has allowed this “little restaurant that could” to thrive since it first opened in 1946.
“The restaurant kind of wraps itself into your life and gets you hooked. It’s definitely funny how much it changes you. I feel like with age and parenthood my perspective has changed. I want to keep it going for my children to grow up there like I did. Honestly, [growing up at Mosca’s] was really just a wonderful childhood,” says Lisa. “I was surrounded by family and friends and food. At the time, I didn’t realize it, but in retrospect, it was a pretty nice way to grow up.”
Over the past year-and-a-half her Tulane education helped Lisa meet the challenges of a global — and all-too-local — pandemic. “My expectation of what my career was going to be, and what I was going to do, gave me an idea of how things were going to go. And they just didn’t go that way at all. At first, I thought it was devastating, but it wasn’t. These past couple of years have changed the kind of person I am for the better — your life doesn’t always go as planned, but that’s not always a bad thing,” she reflects.
“I feel like the restaurant has shaped me and made me a better person. It was something I really resisted at first. Now I’m in the thick of it, and I see the positive of it, and the love people have for it. It’s a special thing.”
These past couple of years have changed the kind of person I am for the better — your life doesn’t always go as planned, but that’s not always a bad thing.
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