From Italy to Cheney

A+sample+plate+of+some+of+the+entree+possibilities+at+Lenny%27s.+Every+single+recipe+on+the+menu+was+created+by+owner%2Fchef+John+Maticchio+%7C+Mckenzie+Ford+for+The+Easterner
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From Italy to Cheney

A sample plate of some of the entree possibilities at Lenny's. Every single recipe on the menu was created by owner/chef John Maticchio | Mckenzie Ford for The Easterner

A sample plate of some of the entree possibilities at Lenny's. Every single recipe on the menu was created by owner/chef John Maticchio | Mckenzie Ford for The Easterner

A sample plate of some of the entree possibilities at Lenny's. Every single recipe on the menu was created by owner/chef John Maticchio | Mckenzie Ford for The Easterner

A sample plate of some of the entree possibilities at Lenny's. Every single recipe on the menu was created by owner/chef John Maticchio | Mckenzie Ford for The Easterner

By Erica Halbert, Contributor

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One of the oldest restaurants in Cheney, Lenny’s has served traditional Italian cuisine for over 20 years.

The restaurant’s menu is massive, with over 50 entrées alone. Entrées range from pastas and eggplant parmesan to stuffed cod.

According to owner and chef John Maticchio, the large menu is intentional.

“The menu is big, but I give lots of choices,” Maticchio said. “It’s a small town, and I want people to stop by more than once. And they do. They bring their family. They bring their friends. And they can always get something different.”

Maticchio purchased Lenny’s 22 years ago. Prior to his purchase, Lenny’s was a drive-thru burger joint.

Maticchio, with his wife and daughter, reopened Lenny’s as a specialty sandwich shop. The idea to serve Italian food came shortly after.

“I told my wife and daughter, ‘Let’s run an Italian service one night a week,’ said Maticchio. “We just put up a couple signs in the parking lot.”

Despite only having paper plates and paper utensils, the Italian service ended up being a hit.

“My daughter came in the kitchen and said, ‘Dad, the place is getting filled up!’ said Maticchio. “They all wanted Italian food.”

For service the following week, Maticchio invested in actual plates and silverware.

“I didn’t want people eating on paper plates,” said Maticchio. “There was a line to get in. And people carried their own plates and silverware. I was so embarrassed.”

Maticchio then worked on transitioning Lenny’s from a sandwich shop to a full-blown Italian restaurant. At the time, there wasn’t even a stove in the kitchen.

“I told my wife and my daughter, let’s work hard and pay everything off,” Maticchio said.

And that’s what the Maticchio’s did. They started opening seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Once they paid off the building, they ended their breakfast service. Maticchio later decided to reduce the restaurant’s hours to only serve dinner.

The family had their struggles opening in Cheney, however.

“It was pretty hard in the beginning,” said Maticchio. “People really tried to chase me out. They were afraid I was going to take business away from the other little restaurants.”

Business owners in the area would often report Lenny’s to the health department, and even sat in the restaurant’s parking lot trying to convince potential customers to eat at their own restaurants instead.

“I was shocked, I couldn’t believe what these people were doing,” Maticchio said.

After a while, the atmosphere suddenly changed and the business owners welcomed Lenny’s to Cheney.

“Then suddenly, they realized, ‘That son of a b—- is going to stay here no matter what!’” Maticchio said.

Since then, Lenny’s has been a staple to Cheney. Maticchio was voted Cheney Businessman of the Year, Lenny’s was featured in the Spokesman-Review, and Cheney residents even held a parade in the restaurant’s honor.

“It was a long road, but I knew what I was doing,” said Maticchio. “I had restaurants in Alaska, too. It’s all I knew how to do, so I wasn’t afraid.”

Maticchio came to the United States in 1968. Prior to that, he was living in a refugee camp in Trieste, Italy, at 15 years old. It was there that he learned how to cook.

“There were 12,000 people there,” said Maticchio. “I was working in the basement prepping meals.”

Maticchio brought his love of cooking with him to the United States, where he sought to learn more.

“I started as a dishwasher, and I kept pushing myself to do prep and to go around and help the cooks. But the chef said ‘No, you’re going to be a sous chef,’” Maticchio said.

After a while working as a sous chef, Maticchio quit. He said he had learned all there was to learn at that restaurant, and he wanted to continue his search for knowledge elsewhere.

Maticchio wasn’t interested in the money, just the learning experience.

“I would go someplace and the chef would be a butthead and not show me anything, so I left,” said Maticchio. “I didn’t want to be there because he wouldn’t let me learn.”

Maticchio’s experiences took him around the world, to Philadelphia, Florida, even South America, Alaska and finally, Cheney.

While eating at a burger joint in Spokane, Maticchio met a fellow Italian man. The man’s cousin, Lenny, was looking to sell his Cheney restaurant, and offered to show the place to Maticchio.

The restaurant was so cheap that Maticchio offered a down payment on the spot.

Every single recipe on the restaurant’s extensive menu was created by Maticchio. When he came to Cheney, there were no other Italian restaurants.

“I took a chance,” said Maticchio, regarding the items he decided to put on the menu. “You’ve got to teach them how to eat it. Like eggplant. Or spinach cannelloni. You cannot please everyone.”

Despite the various chicken, beef and fish dishes, the restaurant’s most popular items are the pastas.

In the beginning, Maticchio made his own pastas, but found that it became too much work.

“One time I served a lady, and she said, ‘This doesn’t look homemade,’ said Maticchio. “So I said, that’s enough, I’m going to buy pasta. The lady came back and I said, ‘How do you like it now?’ She said, ‘Oh I love it!’ You cannot please them all.”

Many of the other menu items, such as the sauces and stuffings, are handmade.

Lenny’s is located at 1204 1st St. The restaurant is open from 3 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday for dinner service, and is closed Sunday through Tuesday. Maticchio offers a 15 percent discount to all students, senior citizens and military members, as well as a free children’s spaghetti plate with every adult entrée purchased.