October 13, 2022
(BALTIMORE, M.D.)- Little Donna’s opened its doors in June in the Upper Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore and has had a pleasant welcome from the community, said Robert Tutlewski, the owner and chef.
In a brief interview, Tutlewski spoke with The Click on the intersection of family and food. This interview is edited for clarity and length.
The Click: I read that the menu from Little Donna’s is largely based on your grandmother’s recipe box and also on influences from your childhood. Is there a particular lesson she taught you about food and cooking that stands out the most?
Tutlewski: “That’s a good question. I think the biggest thing that we try to do here that’s a reflection of my family is to provide substance. To provide good food all the time, in the sense of creating some sort of value through the food that we do. Growing up it was like you go to someone else’s house you get Mac and cheese for lunch, or grilled cheese. Which is totally fine, but when you came to our house you were always served a sausage lasagna or a bitter green salad. We weren’t foodies. That was just what we ate. So, always working at restaurants it was just a constant reminder of, ‘I know this food,’ not because I researched it or opened a book to see what this is. I remember this from growing up.”
The Click: Food is very attached to memory I feel like.
Tutlewski: “For me personally that’s why I do the food that we’re doing. We’ve had this idea to do this restaurant, it was always going to be called Little Donna’s but it was going to be something different when we got into this space. This menu and really leaning into these family recipes was always there, we were just kind of like waiting for the right time and place to do it. And who knows? If we didn’t find this place it might have never happened. This menu never would have come out. But we’re in the right neighborhood, so we’re able to do it.”
The Click: Is there a lesson, growth moment, or approach to the work that you took from all your years working in different restaurants that you wanted to take with you when you started Little Donna’s?
Tutlewski: “I think it’s when I met my wife. She’s not in the food industry. But it was important when I met her and we wanted to start our family and grow together; I’m not sure if this is a lesson or anything but it was important for me to keep my treasure at home. Knowing that whatever goes on at work, whatever goes on in our life, I need to take care of and provide for my family. The restaurant industry is really hard. The only way for us to make this really succeed was to do what we’re doing now, we live here at the building. We own this restaurant. I don’t know if that’s a lesson. But it was always understood that even though my wife and our family aren’t a part of this restaurant, they really are.”
The Click: What is your favorite item on the Little Donna’s menu and why?
Tutlewski: “Um, I’ve grown to love the pierogis more. Because people really enjoy them. It makes people really happy.”
The Click: It’s nice to see food bring people together.
Tutlewski: “Yeah. I mean the pierogis do. It’s a dish I grew up on. When I was a child, it was ‘you gotta start making your own lunch’ and things like that. That was the first thing I was taught how to make. Grab some pierogis from the fridge that were cooked and boiled, fry em’ in butter. So I just always thought: ‘No it’d be cool one day to actually have pierogis on the menu.’ And now the whole restaurant, it’s all about pierogis.”