Mona Lisa’s Online Campaign Illuminates Restaurant Industry Woes


Siroun Johnson

Due to the pandemic, local businesses that have been CRLS staples are struggling.

Charlie Bonney, Managing Editor

On November 30th, Mohamed Omara decided to throw in the towel. Government support, savings, and scant business since mid-March were not enough to keep his restaurant going. It appeared that, after 16 years serving lunch to hungry CRLS students, Mona Lisa’s Pizza was going to shut its doors. It was then that Anthony Gallucio ’85, a CRLS graduate and lifelong Cambridge resident, heard Omara was going out of business. In response, Gallucio helped unite the CRLS and Cambridge community to save the beloved pizza restaurant. 

Gallucio started an online fundraiser on GoFundMe to “save Mona Lisa’s Pizza.” Knowing that Mona Lisa’s was a favorite among students, he figured many “don’t know that [it]’s potentially going to close.” The GoFundMe was a success, raising thousands of dollars and keeping the restaurant in business for the time being. However, Mona Lisa’s, like any other small business, is not out of the woods yet. 

Omara expressed his gratitude, saying, “It means a lot. It feels like I had no family, but now the whole community is my family. They care about me, they care about Mona Lisa’s staying open. It really is appreciated.”

When the CRLS community learned that Mona Lisa’s future was in peril, people came together to help. Mathis Hansell ’21 called Mona Lisa’s the “go-to” spot for CRLS students during lunch. “I donated because there have been a couple times where I was short on cash and they let me slide for the day, so I might as well give back a little so I can still eat there in the future,” said Hansell. This is the type of unique community atmosphere that thrives in a local business and is the reason Cantabrigians felt the need to step in when Mona Lisa’s was in a time of need. 

Omara was thankful for the help he received, but the resurgence in business was even more important than the donations: “It’s more important for me, not to donate, but to come give me business. If you donate to me, you’re going to donate once and that’s it. I need people to keep coming and give me business so I can survive until the pandemic is over.” He was also profuse in his thanks for Gallucio, who he called “the light at the end of his tunnel.” Similar to Omara, Gallucio was also glad that the GoFundMe was able to spread awareness about the restaurant’s situation, saying, “We raised a little over 6,000 [dollars], but it was more about the business: people seeing that [Omara] was in trouble, people that went to the restaurant and ordered.” 

It means a lot. It feels like I had no family, but now the whole community is my family. They care about me, they care about Mona Lisa’s staying open. It really is appreciated.”

— Mohamed Omara

Gallucio stressed that Mona Lisa’s is not the only struggling restaurant in Cambridge at the moment. His message was: “If you don’t support [small businesses] now, they’re not going to be there when this ends. That’s the bottom line. If you have places that you really like, try to push yourselves to use them as much as possible.” During most years, CRLS provided business to several establishments in addition to Mona Lisa’s: Angelo’s, Broadway Market, Harvard Market, and Darwin’s, particularly. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the absence of lunch-hour business from over 2000 students and staff has taken a toll on all of the above. 

Visiting Mona Lisa’s in the days after the fundraiser, it does seem as if the call for business has been answered. Although this temporary uptick in business is not a long-term solution for local businesses, it does help promote the importance of small businesses in the community. As reflected with Mona Lisa’s, to keep the local business afloat, members of the CRLS community must continue to visit and give back to shops and restaurants they hold dear. The unfortunate truth for Mona’s is that sales will not reach pre-pandemic levels until school is back in session, but a push from students can help them scrape by until then. 

Small businesses have taken the brunt of this pandemic: statewide, their revenue has dropped by 44%, and 37% of businesses have closed completely. Across the nation, the loss in business is caused by fewer people spending their days outside of their homes. Downtown and main street areas that typically serve workers at lunch time are seeing fewer and fewer customers. Government assistance has been insufficient for many businesses who have lost a ample portion of their business. 

Even though the pandemic has prevented Americans from going to work or school, people with the wherewithal can still choose to eat out and support local businesses. It is clear that Americans still do have the appetite for consumption, because, while small, local businesses struggle for customers, chains like Walmart, McDonalds, and Dominos are thriving. Locally, organizations such as Cambridge Local First have been advocating for small businesses and spreading the word that these places need help to survive the pandemic. Getting the word out is vital. No matter how much money a GoFundMe raises, small businesses can only survive when they are doing what they know best: serving their customers with compassion and care.