On June 30, Carmela Liberta, best known as the matriarch of the beloved Luna Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant in Old Town Clovis and affectionately as the “Nonnie” behind her daughter’s Nonnie’s House boutique, passed away, leaving behind a legacy of superb hospitality, graciousness and love for the community.
Born in Italy in 1938, Carmela emigrated to the United States where she met and married fellow emigrant Franco Liberta. At first, the couple and their young family lived in New York, but in 1969 moved across the country to Clovis, where they opened their now famous authentic Italian restaurant, Luna Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant.
Today, the restaurant remains a local favorite and is still family-owned and operated by Carmela and Franco’s sons Bert and David Liberta.
A gem for its delicious cuisine, Luna’s impact has reached far beyond just feeding Clovis residents and visitors delightful home cooked meals. Over the years, countless teens have learned the value of a good work ethic from the Liberta family that has routinely hired and now has trained generations of young adults in hospitality and service. Much of these life lessons came directly from Carmela, ever the smiling hostess greeting those entering the restaurant as if they were family.
Sassano’s manager Bob Parks said he remembers when Luna’s first opened in Old Town. It quickly became a go-to place to eat, he said, not only because of the food chef Franco prepared but because of the warm family environment the family created. Carmela, Parks said, was always so welcoming and genuine. She would remember every conversation you had with her previously and would always inquire about your family.
“Carmela was always very gracious and always remembered your family,” Parks said. “She would always ask me ‘how are your girls?’ meaning my two daughters. There is a guy, Don, who comes in here all the time and she knew his parents very well. After his mom passed, Carmela sent unbelievable amounts of food to the funeral reception and he always talks about that. It had to be hundreds worth of food. That is just one example of her graciousness and her compassion for others.”
After Franco passed away in 1995, Carmela’s involvement in Clovis only grew.
Marty Watt, the owner of 4th Street Antiques, amd Carmela served together on the Business Organization of Old Town (B.O.O.T.) board. Carmela, Watt said, would often host meetings at Luna’s and for 20 years she took charge of the annual Christmas party held at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District.
Looking back 30 years at the state of Old Town, Watt said things were very different, but people like Carmela were committed and relentless in their work to make Old Town Clovis the vibrant downtown it is today.
“Carmela was part of the vision for Old Town,” Watt said. “She advocated for more parking and the public restrooms. A lot of good things came about because of people who cared and she was certainly one of them.”
Carmela was also a huge advocate for struggling women. Soon after her husband passed, she and some friends started a women’s group for widows and single women called New Beginnings. This support group continues to meet today at Northpark Community Church. Watt said at times Carmela would even open the doors of her home to women in need.
“She took in many people over the years to live with her,” Watt said. “Girls and women in need who had no home would stay with her in the interim when they were recovering from physical abuse or whatever struggle. If they needed a place, she would welcome them into her home and they would stay there as long as they needed. She had a big heart that way.”
In addition to her big heart, Watt also remembers Carmela as fashionable.
Before opening up 4th Street Antiques, Watt worked at the popular Barbara’s Fashions Boutique, where Carmela was a frequent patron. Often, when Watt and her coworkers would go to market to find unique pieces to sell in the store, they would think of Carmela and specifically pick out styles they thought she would like or that would look good on her.
“It didn’t matter whether she would end up buying it or not, we would always buy items for her and she would come in and see what we had picked out for her when we got back,” Watt said.
It’s no wonder Carmela’s daughter, Maryellen Willis, decided to open a women’s clothing and accessory boutique in 2003 named after her stylish mom, known to all the grandchildren as Nonnie. Nonnie’s House Boutique has been a staple in Old Town ever since. Located on the opposite side of Old Town, one could now say the Liberta’s influence has stretched all the way from Third Street to Seventh Street along Pollasky, encompassing the heart of Clovis, the little Old Town that could, that Carmela loved so much.
“When you look at Pollasky, almost every business that was there over 10 years ago has closed down,” said Martin Hinshaw, owner of A1 Lock and Key. “Just from Third to Fourth Street, who has been there that long? There is Gottschalk Music Center, the funeral home, of course, and Sam’s TV repair, but who else? Luna’s. They are the oldest. Everyone else is new.”
An icon, Hinshaw said—Luna Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant is a true icon in Clovis, as was its matriarch.
“She was a sweetheart,” Hinshaw said. “She never had a negative word to say ever and she had been battling cancer on and off for almost 40 years. Think about what you would do if you had cancer that long. She was just wonderful. She was a beautiful woman and was inspiring.”
A Celebration of Life Service for Carmela will be held Wednesday, July 11, at 11 a.m. at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District, located at 808 Fourth Street.