Big slice of Sheffield history at long-running pizzeria, Mama’s and Leonie’s
What lays claim to be South Yorkshire’s oldest pizzeria has just celebrated 50 years of serving the hungry diners of Sheffield.
Mama’s and Leonie’s in Norfolk Street has been a mainstay of Sheffield city centre since 1968.
Their keen band of loyal customers is boosted by visitors and performers at Sheffield city centre theatres, especially during the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible, and hungry elite swimmers who have been training or competing at Ponds Forge.
The restaurant was started by Bernard and Janice Green, who were later joined by their son Scott. The restaurant began life as Mama’s Hamburger and Pizza Parlour.
Former waitress and manageress of the restaurant, Cath Hall and her husband John took over when the Greens retired in 2005 and Scott opted to concentrate on his other business concerns.
Cath started work there in 1983, aged 19. She said: “I walked into have a coffee because my friend worked here. She said, ‘Do you fancy a job as we’re short staffed?’ I said, ‘No, I’m going to Spain to work’.
“I changed my mind and started off doing Fridays and Saturday daytimes. Two weeks later, they asked me to come full time.
“I started in March 1983, just before the snooker.”
She had worked at the restaurant for 22 years, becoming manageress, when the Greens called it a day.
Cath added: “It’s a lot to take on, from being manageress to owner, but the customers just thought it was fantastic.”
They have carried on with the family atmosphere as Cath’s sister Anne and niece Nicola both work with them. Another sister, Sheila, used to be part of the team as well.
Cath said the restaurant’s success is down to several factors. “85 per cent of customers are regulars. I say it’s like a jigsaw – good service, good music, good food, cleanliness – that gives a buzz to the place.
“Grandmas will bring their daughters, who bring their daughters and their daughters… it’s just a family-run business.”
Cath said that originally there was another Mama’s pizza parlour near Cole Brothers. She said: “This was what they called little Mama’s.”
When she first arrived, the restaurant experimented with vegetarian food upstairs at Leonie’s, named after the Greens’ daughter, but it didn’t last.
These days, with the trend for vegan food, there are some vegan dishes on the specials board, but the main menu stays essentially the same.
Gin is a popular tipple currently, so they stock a range now.
The restaurant takes up a building that is believed to date back to around 1840. Over the years it's been home to various shops and cafes.
The old flagged cellar is intriguing and a stone gutter running along the floor may have helped to fuel the rumours that dastardly medical deeds took place there, with blood being washed away in the gulley.
The building is near the site of the first Sheffield Medical School on Surrey Street, so there could have been other medical premises in the area.
There’s also rumoured to have been a tunnel linking the cellar to the Upper Chapel across the road.
With all that history in the building, inevitably there’s a ghost, nicknamed Arthur. Cath said she’d caught a glimpse occasionally of a figure flitting up the stairs.
There have been lots of famous visitors and the autograph album is brimming with snooker stars, Olympic medallists and a host of showbiz names. Top actors include Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Grandage, Kenneth Branagh, Diana Rigg…
Musicians range from The Monkees to Sheffield's own Arctic Monkeys, Chrissie Hynde and Helen Shapiro.
Cath has fond memories of Rotherham comedy duo, the Chuckle Brothers, regular visitors during their Lyceum panto stint in 1997-8.
She said they never refused to sign an autograph for any of their young fans.
The restaurant is always busy for the World Snooker and many tables were booked months ago.