Moms Who Make Duluth Series: Restaurateur Mary Kay Berarducci

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Moms Who Make Duluth | Duluth Moms Blog

Moms Who Make Duluth is a monthly series featuring interviews with industrious, local women who are shaping the face of Duluth’s professional sphere while simultaneously raising their families. Duluth Moms Blog and Krenzen are delighted to highlight the positive impact working moms have on our community. We want you to get to know some of Duluth’s most notable women: professionals who balance work, community, civic engagement, and family.

Introducing... Mary Kay Berarducci!

Today we’re talking with a woman who has been making Duluth a tastier place to live for the past eleven years. Meet restauranteur, mom, flavor guru, and baker extraordinaire… Va Bene Caffe’s mastermind: Mary Kay Berarducci!

Mary Kay, will you tell us a little about yourself?

Moms Who Make Duluth Series: Restaurateur Mary Kay Berarducci | Duluth Moms Blog
PC: Three Irish Girls Photography

I grew up in Duluth as the youngest of eight in a house with only 4 bedrooms and 1 bathroom. It could feel crowded, but I loved it. There was always someone around, especially during the holidays when the house was overflowing with family, good food, board games, and card playing. My parents were hard workers. My dad was in the insurance business, and coincidentally, practiced in the building right next to where Va Bene is now located! He was perpetually positive. I would sometimes roll my eyes at his cheerfulness but it rubbed off me and I’m happy it did. Who wants to go through life all negative and bitter? My mother worked at Sears in downtown Duluth. She was the original Girl Boss! 

Both of my parents instilled a love of music and the arts in all of us. They also held high expectations of their kids so it was a given we would all attend college after high school. I studied chemistry and biology at UMD while also working at Chi-Chi’s Restaurant. That’s where I met my husband, Jim. We married and had our first child, Mallory. I decided to stay home after she was born because I couldn’t bear to leave her and I was nursing and didn’t want to stop so soon. Then a few years later, Gia was born. Even though we endured the heartache of four miscarriages, we were eventually blessed with 5 children: 3 girls and 2 boys.
The year we opened Va Bene, we were also expecting our youngest child, Mo. Opening Va Bene was unlike any past experience I’d had. It was stressful and difficult. With five kids, I just couldn’t be at the restaurant full time and Jim was still working and traveling for his then job in healthcare consulting. Luckily, our 2 oldest daughters stepped in to help. Mallory and her (now) husband, Patrick, managed, served, and cooked while Gia and her (now) husband, Danny, also served customers. They were teenagers! We will forever be grateful to them. The others kids helped with the baby and other household needs so the endeavor truly a family affair.
Eleven years later, I tackle a plethora of different jobs at Va Bene, from designing spaces, creating our menu items (with Jim’s help!) baking all the desserts, booking Soffitta, our private dining space, marketing, and quality control in the kitchen. It’s a lot of hard work but I wouldn’t do it any other way. I’m a very passionate person; when I like something, I’m all in! In addition to running Va Bene, I’m the Miller Dwan Foundation Board of Directors and am active in acquisitions for the big fall gala, Artcetera.

On to the questions!

What advice do you wish you could have given to your 13 year old self?

My mom used to say, “I’m not perfect, I’m a work in progress” and it seemed like a cop-out statement. She was so right though. Also, do what you have to do so that you can enjoy what you want to do. I use to run 5 days a week. Every morning I literally had to talk myself in to it. I’d tell myself, “Just go a mile because it’s better than nothing.” And I loved running! Inevitably, I would do my whole run. My only competition is myself. I can’t compare myself to others.

What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

Opening a restaurant during a recession is the first risk that comes to mind! But there have been many because it’s the only way to grow and change–both personally and professionally.

Your confections and cakes are a sight to behold! What is your favorite thing to bake and why?

The next creation! When I’m in creative mode, I wake up thinking of what flavor profiles would be interesting and fun to eat. I especially love when something doesn’t go as planned and I can switch it around to something that works. Ask anyone in my kitchen! I’m always saying that I don’t like to waste anything! 

Moms Who Make Duluth Series: Restaurateur Mary Kay Berarducci | Duluth Moms Blog
A joyus family moment with the Berarducci’s


What is the most exciting thing about your job right now? Most challenging?

We are still growing and changing. Our long time, loyal staff and guests, doing something I have a passion for–these things make going to work every day fun, even after 11 years!

What is your family’s favorite way to relax together?

Dinners together, talking, hanging out, going to the cabin. Board games (that may only be me!) Basically, just being together.

Your children are older now, do you have any advice for new moms about the years to come?

You may never find a reason for a specific situation. You can only deal with it until it passes. And, most importantly, all the time you spend doing the things that tire you out–time spent, hugs given, talking when they need to talk even if you feel too tired to really listen–is what transforms them into the kind of adults that the world needs. And your kids will remember those times the most.

Tell us your biggest joy and most challenging part of motherhood?

I love babies! I loved nursing. I learned all I know on the job. We definitely went our own way and just shrugged when people questioned our methods. It’s such a pleasure watching our children grow up to be awesome adults who truly enjoy spending time with. Grandchildren aren’t too shabby either! I didn’t realize you never stop parenting. It’s true! Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems.

What is your favorite cheesy movie?


Name a favorite “hidden gem” Northshore spot.

Va Bene. Seriously. Even after 11 years of business, we still have local Duluthians walk in and tell us, “I never knew this was here!” We get many comment cards with “hidden gem” on them and we are ok with that!

Moms Who Make Duluth Series: Restaurateur Mary Kay Berarducci | Duluth Moms Blog
Just a sampling of Mary Kay’s decadent desserts.


Thank you, Mary Kay, for letting us get to know you. We love your honesty and warmth, and can’t wait for our next pop in to Va Bene to fill our bellies!

Stay Tuned!

Join us over the next few months as we get to know some of Duluth’s most notable women. Do you know a mom who is making waves in the community? Speaking out? Pushing for change, or implementing new and innovative ways to better our schools, neighborhoods, government, or commerce and agriculture? Drop us a line at [email protected] and let us know!