Local news. Locally owned.
We put readers first.

Co-owner of Cucina di Paolo, caretaker of Bench’s ‘Betty’ dies

Regence
Get Local presented by 116 and West

Paul Wegner, Boise chef and co-owner of Cucina di Paolo died last month. He was 60.

He might be best known for two things: his cuisine — and his relationships. One, with his wife and restaurant co-owner Mary Jean. Another with a Boise icon: Betty the Washer Woman.

Betty is the hard-working mechanical doll atop the sign on Vista Avenue. Rain or shine, day or night, she works away washing clothes in front of Cucina di Paolo. She’s been on the job since the 1950s, but for the last decade or so, Paul acted as her caregiver.

Betty the Washer Woman in front of Cucina Di Paolo in Boise. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

Each month, he changed her clothes to match the seasons – and kept her in working order.

“That’s the only other woman my wife will let me kiss, and I kiss her every time I change her clothes,” Wegner said with a laugh in his voice on 94.9 The River last month. “Once a month!”

- Story continues below -
Tamarack Catch the Life
ICCU Business Unusual

[Owner of group of Idaho coffee shops dies at age 55]

‘Started with a tub of ice’

Inside the former Maytag laundry building-turned-restaurant, Wegner delighted customers with lasagnas, pot pies, and more in a cozy seating. Cucina di Paolo – Paul’s Kitchen – also features pies and deserts from Mary Jean. Since opening in 2007, the restaurant became as much an icon of the Boise Bench as ol’ Betty outside on the sign.

“We started with a tub of ice and a pan of lasagna and a microwave and gave out samples, and that’s how we started our business,” Wegner told KTVB’s Alex Livingston in 2018.

The Wegners started their business at the public market in Downtown Boise in the 1990s before heading to a bricks and mortar location on Ustick. After Paul took on a stint as sous chef at Cottwonwood Grill, they opened the Vista spot in 2007. Even though the Betty sign started out representing the Maytag laundry, the Wegners embraced her.

In recent years, Betty starred in a yearly calendar, with all proceeds going to local charities – including the Idaho Food Bank and Women’s and Children’s Alliance.

The Wegners talked to Ken Bass and Debbie Courson-Smith earlier this month about the latest edition of the calendar. They said the calender would be the final edition, and they picked the WCA because of its mission of helping people – particularly during the pandemic. Cucina Di Paolo will sell the calendar in the restaurant this holiday season.

Paul and Mary Jean appear on the cover of FOCUS in June 1998 in front of their original location on Ustick Rd. in Boise.

Italy to Boise

Wegner fell in love with Italian cooking during a stint in the military, stationed in Italy. After earning a degree from Boise State in sociology, Paul worked as a chef at The Flicks and operated a catering business.

In 1998, Wegner talked to Boise State’s alumni magazine Focus for a feature on unique businesses.

- Story continues below -
Tamarack Catch the Life
ICCU Business Unusual

“Go with your dream, go with your instinct. That’s what it’s about,” Wegner said of starting Cucina di Paolo with Mary Jean. “Say to yourself ‘I see it. I want it, and I’m going to go for it.”

Cucina di Paolo is closed today, but will reopen November 4th according to the restaurant’s phone message.

Don Day
Don is the founder and editor of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow.

Gobbling local food: Kuna farm sees unprecedented demand for local turkeys

Any latecomers hoping to gobble up a locally raised Thanksgiving Turkey from Vogel Farms are out of luck.  For the first time in 14 years,...

Out with the gowns, in with the sweaters: Locally owned boutiques weathering COVID-19

The pandemic shut down more than just big national stores mall last spring.  Locally-owned clothing stores in Boise also shut their doors alongside their corporate...

NPR profiles Bar Gernika; Idaho takeout & delivery revenue highest in US

Idaho leads the nation in daily takeout and delivery revenue, according to a new NPR article & podcast. The article sites the National Restaurant...

Votes are in: Here’s the ‘Coolest thing made in Idaho’

Last month, BoiseDev told you about the Coolest Thing Made in Idaho contest hosted by the Idaho Manufacturing Alliance. In October, manufacturers and inventors from across...

Popular

‘I have never, ever felt this ill:’ Ahlquist, family contract COVID-19

By Nicole Camarda / Idaho News 6 Crush The Curve co-founder Tommy Ahlquist brought the first public COVID-19 tests to Idaho last spring. Now he...

An Idaho challenger to Facebook landed big cash, a million users & a ‘Bachelor’ influencer. Then it disappeared

Pitched as an alternative to Facebook and Twitter, an Eagle-based company's social network looked like it started to gain traction. Then, it disappeared. But not before...

Popular old Vista Ave. cafe reopens in new Boise mall-area location

After starting as a cafe on Vista, converting to a cafeteria at MK Plaza and a catering company out of a call center, Rooster's...

COVID spreads in Boise homeless shelters: one Boise Rescue Mission guest and staffer dead

Eight months after Idaho announced it’s first case of COVID-19, the pandemic is hitting Boise’s homeless community harder than ever.  In the past two weeks,...

Related

SERVPRO Certified

Latest

COVID spreads in Boise homeless shelters: one Boise Rescue Mission guest and staffer dead

Eight months after Idaho announced it’s first case of COVID-19, the pandemic is hitting Boise’s homeless community harder than ever.  In the past two weeks,...

Boise-based Norco purchased Utah-based automation & welding company

By Idaho Press staff Norco, a large, privately owned welding, safety, medical, and gas supplier, announced in a press release the acquisition of Arc Services...

‘I have never, ever felt this ill:’ Ahlquist, family contract COVID-19

By Nicole Camarda / Idaho News 6 Crush The Curve co-founder Tommy Ahlquist brought the first public COVID-19 tests to Idaho last spring. Now he...

Popular old Vista Ave. cafe reopens in new Boise mall-area location

After starting as a cafe on Vista, converting to a cafeteria at MK Plaza and a catering company out of a call center, Rooster's...

Townhomes proposed to slide into small Bench lot

A project would slide eight townhomes onto a vacant lot on the Boise Bench. David Shurleff of Boise asked the City of Boise for design...

An Idaho challenger to Facebook landed big cash, a million users & a ‘Bachelor’ influencer. Then it disappeared

Pitched as an alternative to Facebook and Twitter, an Eagle-based company's social network looked like it started to gain traction. Then, it disappeared. But not before...