this article was written by Katie Fitzpatrick
Every day for the past 36 years, Emily Benincasa has gone from table to table greeting each guest dining in her namesake restaurant, Emily’s F&M Café on 44th and Oliver. It’s their beloved customers that have kept Emily and her husband, Elliott, going all of these years. In fact, Emily works seven days a week just so she can say hello to the once strangers, now friends, that visit her restaurant. You know you’ve ‘arrived’ in Camden the first time Emily recognizes you as a returning customer.
Emily immigrated to the United States from Italy in 1956. For her first 25 years here, she worked for other restaurants and business owners, but dreamed of one day opening her own place. Eventually, Emily’s dream became a reality. 1982 she and Elliott bought the café on 44th and Oliver from sisters, Florence and Millie. The F&M in the café’s name is homage to its previous owners.
Emily and Elliott have been serving up delicious homestyle breakfasts and lunches almost every day since they opened. In the early years, the restaurant was also open for dinner, but eventually the 17 hour work days took a toll and the couple instead focused on the café concept that we know today. The recipes are Emily’s own and customers’ favorites include the meatloaf and hot roast beef sandwich and the spaghetti and lasagna with Emily’s secret sauce.
When asked what they’re most proud of, the Benincasas point to their spirit of giving. If a customer is short on cash for their bill, or looks like they haven’t had a good meal in a while, Emily doesn’t hesitate to waive the charge or make up the difference. No one goes hungry when the Benincasas are around. The family is also proud of their more recent partnership with Loring Community School. Each month, artwork by Loring students is displayed on the café walls. Each youth artist gets a $5 gift certificate for participating in the pop-up gallery. “The kids love it,” says long-time server Cathy Di Maio, “they want to sit under their picture while they eat.”
The time has come for the Benincasas to hand off the café to new owners. The restaurant is for sale, and once sold Emily and Elliott will embrace retirement. Emily looks forward to spending more time with family and relaxing, and will leave behind a legacy of generosity and hospitality. “It takes a lot of hard work,” she says of owning her own business, “but there’s nothing like it.”
Emily’s F&M Café is open daily from 7 a.m.-2 p.m. The café will be open until a new owner is found. If you or someone you know is interested in purchasing the restaurant, call the Benincasas’ realtor at 612-598-1962.