Lil&8217; Dagos brothers share love of food

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 19, 2006

For Modie and Michael Mascagni life is in the kitchen.

Growing up in an Italian family, the brothers developed a love for the room and the food.

&8220;Like many households in Natchez, and I would think the world, our family life revolved around the kitchen,&8221; Modie said.

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After college Modie got serious about cooking and the restaurant business using his first experience at the Louisiana Pizza Kitchen in Baton Rouge as a catalyst for opening a restaurant of his own.

&8220;I used to work there, for free, three nights a week doing everything from waiting and bussing tables, cooking and washing dishes,&8221; Modie said. &8220;After about four months of working there I thought to myself, &8216;hey I can do this.&8217;&8221;

Modie managed three restaurants before deciding to come home to Natchez, including: an Italian restaurant in New Orleans called Monjunis, a diner in Shreveport called Murrell&8217;s and another Italian restaurant in Bossier City called Zucchini&8217;s.

&8220;I was making a good living in Bossier but I really wanted to come home with my wife, four children and another on the way,&8221; Modie said. &8220;The opportunity didn&8217;t present itself until Michael called me with a proposition.&8221;

After a stint in the military, Modie&8217;s brother Michael proposed opening a restaurant in Natchez and for the two of them to operate it.

&8220;I really planted the seed in Modie&8217;s head about three or four years ago,&8221; Michael said.

&8220;I would run the front of the restaurant, like the staff, and Modie would cook and manage the kitchen.&8221;

Both Michael and Modie feel that they couldn&8217;t have chosen a better location.

&8220;We chose to open here on Seargent Prentiss Drive because we felt this was a good central location that would attract all sorts of business,&8221; Modie said.

Michael agreed.

&8220;So many businesses are located on this road like the hospital, doctor&8217;s clinics and banks,&8221; Michael said. &8220;Not to mention all the tourists and travelers who use this route to head in and out of town.&8221;

Modie and Michael said when they first decided to name the restaurant Lil&8217; Dagos, a perversion of the Italian name Diego meant to be demeaning, they offended some of the Italian families in Natchez. But for the Mascagni brothers the term had a different meaning.

&8220;It was a term of endearment from our Scottish/Irish mother when we were growing up.&8221;

Michael and Modie said the real secret to their success is in the sauce.

&8220;Our spaghetti sauce is a favorite with our family and our customers,&8221; Modie said. &8220;My father used to put a pig tail in every pot of his, but I didn&8217;t want to frighten our customers so I use a ham hock and it seems to suffice.&8221;

The walls inside the restaurant are decorated with photos of several of the Italian families in Natchez like the Stallones, Baronis, Mascagnis and Verucchis.

&8220;We felt that we should honor those who are part of our family and part of our heritage here in Natchez,&8221; Modie said. &8220;Plus, I think it gives a sense of family atmosphere to anyone who comes to eat, which is what we were going for.&8221;

Michael and Modie said they agree starting a new restaurant in Natchez is a bit tough.

&8220;I think the toughest thing when starting out is trying to become a household name,&8221; Modie said. &8220;I&8217;m confident that, in a little while, people will start associate our place with some of the more well known restaurants in Natchez.&8221;