Aida Bistro & Wine Bar, the perennial Columbia favorite, announced earlier this month that it will close its doors after two decades.
Owners Joe and Mary Barbera said they are retiring and plan to close the Italian restaurant at the end of January.
“We look at it less like closing doors and more like retiring,” said Joe Barbera, 68, in an interview with The Sun along with his wife and business partner, Mary.
The couple said after making it through the pandemic with the business intact and their team strong — the restaurant never closed during the crisis — they figured it was a good time to go out on top, so to speak.
And as they have done for decades, the couple focused on others as they made their plans to retire.
“We’ve been very intentional and that’s why we’re giving everyone a five-month notice to take care of our employees and our customers. … To take care of the things we nurtured over 20 years,” said Mary Barbera.
Although “everything has to do with the pandemic,” Joe noted the couple had been thinking about retiring for a while.
“But during the time of COVID, we really had a good chance to reflect and say what do we want to do,” said Mary, 65, adding that the couple has five children and five grandchildren, including a granddaughter born in 2019 that they haven’t seen as much as they would like.
“We work every weekend except Sunday, which is family day,” she said. “But our kids always have to come to us.”
Howard County Times: Top stories
The restaurant opened in 2002 and is named for Joe Barbera’s mother, 96-year-old Lillian Aida Barbera, who has often greeted the bistro’s guests as if they were family.
In 2010, it relocated from a strip center to a free-standing building with an expansive 4,500 square feet of space that allowed the owners to include a wine bar area with tables and a kitchen large enough to handle a lunchtime crowd.
Aida was among the top Italian restaurants in Howard Magazine’s 2022 Best Restaurants Contest. Hundreds posted fond memories and congratulations to the couple on the restaurant’s social media post announcing their retirement. Many have already called to book holiday reservations so they don’t miss a last chance to dine there.
Mary Barbera said it’s the customers and staff members the couple has connected with who have grown alongside the business that they will long remember.
“We’ve seen these people grow and now they have their own kids,” she said. “Those will be the things that I will miss.”
Before the closing in January, the couple plans to celebrate and enjoy. There’s even a chance a buyer might be found to continue their legacy or to start something new in the same space.
“It would be nice if we could find someone who could carry on what we’ve built,” said Joe Barbera. “Anything is possible.”