Mill Valley lost an icon over the holidays, as Maria Aversa, the longtime force of nature behind the legendary La Ginestra restaurant in downtown Mill Valley, died unexpectedly on December 25th.

Aversa was born on May 21, 1932, the loving daughter of Costantino and Edvige Aiello. She grew up in Sorrento, Italy, and lived there through the Second World War.

In 1955, Aversa married the love of her life, Salvatore Aversa.

Newlyweds, Sal and Maria immigrated to America, with a visa to work for the French Consulate’s residence in Sausalito. It was there where she learned how to cook French and European cuisine.

On Mothers’ Day 1964, Sal and Maria opened La Ginestra, an Italian restaurant on Throckmorton Ave. in Mill Valley. Sal passed away in 1983, and for the past 40 years, Maria has run La Ginestra together with her three children.

They named their rerstaurant after the Scotch broom vegetation that was prevalent in both the wilderness of Mount Tamalpais and in the hills surrounding their hometown.

Maria is survived by her daughter and son-in-law, Lucia and Ralph Della Santina of Corte Madera; her son and daughter-in-law, Fabio and Ann Aversa of Mill Valley; her son and daughter-in-law, Costantino (“Tino”) and Marisa Aversa of Corte Madera; and her grandchildren, Joseph Della Santina, Paolo Della Santina, Gabriella Aversa, Salvatore Aversa and his wife, Tennessee Aversa.

“We remember with gratitude all the kindness from her friends and family throughout the United States and Italy,” the family said in a statement. “We also express gratitude for her colleagues and the patrons of La Ginestra.

The imprint of the Aversa family is immense in both breadth and depth, and we have hailed their impact in this space for many years. In 2019, as part of our EMV Films series highlighting some of the myriad creative businesses, organizations and people in Mill Valley, we spotlighted a trio of businesses whose deep roots and committed engagement have woven them into the fabric of our community. That Included La GinestraPiazza D’Angelo and Malugani Tire Shop.

The video tells the story of three family-owned businesses that have captured that essence of community, from La Ginestra‘s hugs and warmth at “our Italian kitchen away from home” and Piazza D’Angelo‘s authenticity that leaves both locals and Italian visitors feeling like they’re in Italy to the longstanding relations engendered by the owners of Malugani Tire Shop, whose history dates back to 1948.

La Ginestra was also a dedicated participant in the Mill Valley Chamber’s annual Wine, Beer & Gourmet Food Tasting, one of the highlights of the Mill Valley calendar.

When the City of Mill Valley celebrated La Ginestra’s 50th Anniversary in 2014, Fabio Aversa recounted to the Council a story about the family closing the restaurant briefly in 1965 so they could return to Italy for one month. At the end of the trip, Salvatore Aversa told his wife that he’d go back to Mill Valley to re-open the restaurant, and “that if nobody shows up, I’ll pack everything back up and come back to Italy.” Instead, he found flowers and welcome back signs and notes outside the restaurant.

A Funeral Mass will take place on Saturday, January 6, at 2 p.m. at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Mill Valley. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to a charity of your choice, or to St. Vincent de Paul c/o Mt. Carmel Church, 3 Oakdale Avenue, Mill Valley, Calif. 94941. Assisted by Monte’s Chapel of the Hills, 330 Red Hill Ave., San Anselmo, Calif.