Alumni Spotlight Shines Bright on Mario Costantini
By CP Christopher Peppas (DB ’71)
If this Alumni Spotlight on Mario Costantini (DB ’72) seems to burn a little bit brighter than usual, that’s because it’s getting a boost from Lady Liberty’s torch and that big, shiny mirror that we call The Moon. More on both of those later on.
Mario’s story is often told but one that most certainly bears repeating. And it has its roots firmly planted in the education that he received at Don Bosco High School, a key part under the umbrella of the St. Thomas More High School family of institutions.
This is a story of the American Dream, a dream come true that culminated in great success and features a dreamer with gratitude and a mindset to give back in kind.
First, here are a few nuts and bolts. Mario and his wife, Cathy, own and operate La Lune (that’s where the Moon comes in), a factory at 930 East Burleigh in Riverwest. That’s where Mario and his team design and manufacture high-end rustic furniture for hotels and homes across the country.
We’re not talking about a couple of bamboo patio chairs you can pick up at Big Lots! No sirree. La Lune counts Ralph Lauren, Disney Resorts, Marriott Hotels, Radisson Hotels, Ritz-Carlton, and Four Seasons among its many clients.
La Lune uses high-quality, locally sourced wood that’s crafted into furniture pieces that could just as easily be in a museum as in a mansion in Malibu.
There is simply not enough space to list all the awards, recognition, and kudos that Mario and Cathy have received. That and much more about La Lune is on their website: www.lalunecollection.com.
FROM ARGENTINA TO DON BOSCO
Mario’s family immigrated to America from Argentina in the 1960s. They left their homeland after Mario’s father was nearly killed during a coup d’état that resulted in a military junta taking control of the South American nation.
A bumpy plane ride on an old DC-3 to Miami represented the first leg of their journey to the new land and a fresh start. Mario remembers going to New York to visit his cousins. “I’ll never forget [the sight of] the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building—all of it,” Mario recalled.
The family first settled in the Merrill Park neighborhood on Milwaukee’s near west side. Mario went to St. Rose of Lima grade school. “I got into fights about once a week,” Mario said. “I didn’t like being the immigrant kid who was made fun of for my clothes. I felt like an outsider [who was] never accepted.”
That is until the family moved to West Allis, and he started high school at Don Bosco. “I felt accepted [at Bosco] from the beginning. Those were happy years for me.”
Mario worked hard on his studies and tried to get into sports. He went out for the wrestling and football teams, becoming one of the first soccer-style placekickers in the Milwaukee area.
But Mario’s pursuit of sports had to take a back seat to helping his parents in their upholstery business. He would help his folks with banking, taxes, and things where his English-speaking skills were of great benefit. “I was just a kid, but I was dealing with adults,” he added.
That’s where the entrepreneurial bug first bit Mario and laid the foundation for what he continues to do to this day. But Mario’s original plan was to pursue a career in medicine.
PURSUING THE AMERICAN DREAM
After graduating (early) from Bosco, Mario went on to study at Marquette University, beginning as a Pre-Med major. He met Cathy in his first semester in Curtis Carter’s Philosophy of Art & Beauty class. Emphasizing the school’s Jesuit values, Marquette students at the time were required to take fifteen hours of Philosophy—nearly a second minor.
There was an exercise where Professor Carter brought Mario and Cathy up to the front of the class, totally at random, and had a fellow student perform a mock wedding, joining the two in Holy Matrimony.
We’re pretty sure that it wasn’t meant to be binding, but the two formed a relationship early on and have been together ever since—both in business and life.
The Costantinis have always had a furniture store with an eye to satisfying the appetite of the high-end client. In October 1978, they opened their first locale in East Town on Wisconsin Avenue, selling handmade furniture as well as Persian rugs.
Just a little over a year later, however, the Iran Hostage Crisis began, and the public’s appetite for anything related to or originating from that country had all but disappeared.
The pair moved their store to the Historic Third Ward and, in 1986, bought a one-hundred-year-old abandoned factory in Riverwest. And the neighborhood was in worse shape than the building; it was populated by gangs, and there was no shortage of illegal drug activity.
“People thought we were crazy at the time,” Mario explained. “I saw the potential when others didn’t.”
A BEACON OF SUCCESS
It took more than three years and a great deal of blood, sweat, tears, and more than a fair amount of capital to bring the company to where it is today. La Lune has become a beacon of success, producing high-quality, long-lasting products for its customers and creating stable jobs for residents of the neighborhood.
La Lune’s one-of-a-kind pieces are made with tools and machinery as old as the building itself. It is craftsmanship the likes of which is rarely seen in today’s “toss it and move on” mentality.
Many La Lune customers write back to say that they expect these unique designs and pieces to be passed on to the many generations that will follow them.
Mario Costantini’s story is a testament that the American Dream is alive and well—that we are a nation of immigrants, and many hands have stirred our proverbial melting pot.
And he not only basks in the spotlight; he has spent his life shining it on others as well.
View more items from La Lune Collection at www.lalunecollection.com.