Did you all know that John Travolta came to have dinner at our restaurant? Yes! He did… he really really did! It was in 1985. James Cagney was John Travolta’s idol. So he came to Dutchess County to visit James Cagney and of course Mr. Cagney brought him to his favorite Italian restaurant.
Naturally, I couldn’t miss this opportunity to see John Travolta. When I look back now and read about John Travolta he was experiencing some movie flops in the ’80s. But I didn’t consider any of this because all I knew him was as Vinnie Barbarino in Welcome Back Kotter, Saturday Night Fever, Grease and The Urban Cowboy.
was very patient not interrupting him while he was having his dinner. I waited until he was walking out the door. I excitedly screamed “John Travolta!!!!!”. I must have said it a little too loud… actually I screamed it. Well the poor guy was startled and he looked scared. I must have used my loud Italian soprano voice because he was looking for the nearest exit.
Sensing his unwillingness to talk to me in the crazy state I was in, I immediately calmed down and sweetly asked him for an autograph. He took a big sigh of relief and signed my Coppola’s Menu. Of course he was just as handsome as in the movies but I was very surprised as to how slight he looked. I wonder if that is why he was nicknamed “Bone” while he was growing up?
Needless to say I remember every detail of that day. I even know exactly what I was wearing. That beautiful cobalt blue silk scarf reminds me of the day I met John Travolta and it has a special place in my closet!
Speaking of being surprised how slight John Travolta was I have to remember to tell you about the actors from Vassar’s Powerhouse Theater that came in one afternoon to have lunch.
If there is one word to describe my dad it would be the word generous especially at Christmas! Much planning went into gathering boxes of wines and liquors that he would give out as gifts to say thank you. Two couples that stand out that were just as generous as my father. One couple was the Wassmer’s from Bearsville, NY and the other were the Pitcher’s from Rhinebeck, NY. They were one of our most loyal and generous customers. Both Judy and Theodore Wassmer were artists that would take the trip to Poughkeepsie to enjoy a meal with their best friends Mr. and Mrs Ralph Pitcher. Every Christmas they brought our family gifts. The Pitchers brought bouquets of anemones and the Wassmers with beautiful framed paintings. In fact the anemones made their appearance several times a year!
The Pitcher’s had greenhouses in Rhinebeck where they grew anemones for the whole North East. Did you all know that Rhinebeck is considered the anemone capital of the world. The Pitcher’s have had their farm for over a 100 years. Ralph Pitcher started growing anemones from seeds imported from Holland in 1936. Mr. and Mrs. Pitcher were so proud of their flowers that every time they came in would bring my mom a bouquet of flowers and later on when my brother and I got married they would bring 3 bouquets. Such beautiful flowers that bring back so many memories!My brother now lives in North Carloina and whenever the family comes to town one of the stops is to Ralph Pitchers and Sons farm to pick up a couple of bouquets of anemones.
As a little side trivia: Mildred Pitcher said “Anemones were a favorite flower at the Kennedy White House. Jackie sent pictures to the Pitcher family, of tables decorated (for a state dinner) with anemones. Jackie was very specific in asking for pastel bouquets.”
Let me tell you about Theodore Wassmer. He was born in Salt lake City Utah. His wife Judy Lund and himself resided in Bearsville, NY for 30 years before they moved back to Salt Lake City, Utah. Mr. Wassmer and Mr. Pitcher were best friends. Mr. Wassmer never came empty handed either. Every Christmas he would bring my dad one of his paintings and as we got older he would bring my brother, my sister and I paintings as well. A painting just wasn’t enough to Mr. Wassmer he always made sure they were framed too! He is described as a prolific painter. With all the Wassmer paintings in our family I think there has to be a better word than prolific.
After Theodore and Judy moved to Salt Lake City I continued to keep in touch with him. His Christmas cards were hand painted and a long letter of his thoughts and feelings for the year was included. Even after his wife Judy passed away he continued to write to me. His was always the first Christmas card of the season that I received.
In 2006 I didn’t receive a card so I looked him up in the Salt Lake City newspaper only to find out that he died at the age of 96 on his wife’s birthday Nov. 26th. He was a wonderful generous man who never forgot us. One of my favorite paintings is the one where he combined the portraits of him and his wife along with Mr. and Mrs. Pitcher overlaid with 5 anemones.He called it “Five on Four”. After he and Judy moved away to Salt Lake City he sent each of us in my family that painting to remind us of the Wassmer’s and the Pitcher’s weekly Saturday lunches at Coppola’s. That painting hangs in the center of my family room as well as all his other works. It’s like I have my own Wassmer gallery!
Wassmer’s prolific body of works attest to his artistic commitment. Over 2,000 of his paintings, watercolors, and drawings are in the hands of private collectors, museums, colleges, and schools in the United States and Europe. I don’t think anyone knows about all the paintings we have hanging up in my house. Anemones and Wassmer paintings another memorable tradition at Coppola’s Restaurant!
When I turned on the TV the other morning Meadowlark Lemon jumped out at me. Since I started writing on this blog all kinds of things trigger my memory. Meadowlark was promoting his new book, Trust Your Next Shot: A Guide to a Life of Joy. Yep, Meadowlark Lemon came to Coppola’s for dinner! It was the during ’70s when the Harlem Globe Trotters were playing at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center. My brother was working that night he was just a young teen. Everyone in the restaurant did a double take when this 6’8″ guy came in. The ceilings were really high (remember we were in the old Rialto Theater) so he wasn’t too out of place. But when he sat down at a small table for two that was another story. I don’t know why the host sat him at a table for two because it was quite a ridiculous sight as his knees did not fit under table.
My brother was so curious that he meandered to the table and asked who he was… ha ha ha. “Meadowlark Lemon, I am with the Harlem Globe Trotters!” Meadowlark enjoyed his meal so much that the following day the whole team came for dinner. You can imagine what all the Italian staff not more than 5’8″ said when they saw these tall men all come into the restaurant, “Is this how they grow them in America?”
One of Meadowlark’s inspirational quotes in his book is quite apropos for our 50th anniversary. Meadowlark says “Life’s most meaningless statistic is the half-time score.” I wonder what else is in store for Coppola’s Restaurant as we work on our next half time!
When my husband and I got married in November 1980 our friend Joe Bertolozzi played the organ at our wedding. He played Mozart’s Joy as we walked out of the church. He played so beautifully and magnificently we wanted to go back in and enjoy the rest of his rendition.
When Joe came in a few years ago wanting to promote his Bridge Funk Music we jumped at the chance. He had a marketing campaign with some of the area’s restaurants to come up with a dish promoting Joe’s Bridge Funk Music. Bridge Music allows listeners to hear the bridge played like a musical instrument. The work was created for New York’s 400th anniversary observance of Henry Hudson’s voyage up the Hudson River. Originally intended to be a live performance piece, this “audacious plan” (New York Times) to compose music for a suspension bridge using the bridge itself as the instrument brought Bertolozzi wide international attention. A recording of the results, the 2009 CD “Bridge Music” (on the Delos label DE1045), entered the Billboard Classical Crossover Music Chart at #18, and has been released globally.
Jim came up with a dish called Funk Pasta to help market Joe’s famous Bridge Funk Music. This dish became so popular that even after the promotion was over, people are still asking for it! It’s a great summer dish and Jim usually puts it on the menu during summer months. He uses fusilli pasta (corkscrew-shaped pasta) with fresh lemon juice and a dab of marinara, adding smoked mozzarella cheese, provolone, prosciutto, salami, artichoke hearts, green olives and chicken. As long as we have all the ingredients we will happily make it for our customers even if its not on the menu.
Joe Bertolozzi and his mom are loyal customers who enjoy a little bit of Funk! Check out Joe’s Funk Bridge Music on YouTube. And don’t be shy if you don’t see Funk Pasta on our seasonal menu. All you have to do is ask for it. We will gladly make it for you provided we have all the ingredients.
Gosh I almost forgot to tell you about Coppola’s Restaurant and President Richard Nixon. It all goes back a beautiful day in October 1971. President Nixon’s younger brother Ed came to a luncheon to address Dutchess County Federation of Women’s Republican Clubs at our restaurant, Coppola’s on 273 Main Street. It was a crazy day in Poughkeepsie! Not only was Coppola’s Restaurant surrounded by protesters but also the campaign headquarters on New Market Street, outside Coppola’s students were dressed like “grim reapers” to dramatize their protest of the war in Indochina. The leaflets they handed out were titled “Six Million Victims.” One student was even bound to a cross. It was quite a scene as Ed Nixon left the restaurant under guard with police escorts to a limousine. Yes, Coppola’s Restaurant shared a headline with Nixon the next day in the Poughkeepsie Journal. Despite all the protests in Dutchess County Nixon went on the win a second term of the Presidency.
July 6,1983 I waddled over to Coppola’s Restaurant for a chance to meet Pres. Richard Nixon. This time instead of his little brother Ed, Pres. visited Dutchess County. He was warmly greeted as he toured Franklin D. Roosevelt home and library. He later went on to have lunch at Coppola’s Restaurant. I wasn’t going to miss the chance to meet the President. I don’t know what I was thinking but in July 1983, I was pregnant with my son Joe and I wasn’t hiding. There I was front and center. I mean how can anyone not notice me as I stood there waiting for a chance to shake hands with Pres. Nixon. Of course, he right away noticed!!(Really how can you notice anyone else since I took up all the space.) I didn’t even have to ask as I stood there proudly holding a pen. The President wondered if I knew what the sex of the baby as he addressed the autograph to Baby Morgan, Best Wishes from Richard Nixon.
But that didn’t end our dealings with the Nixon Presidency. Later on that year, December 28, 1983, G. Gordon Liddy, (he served on the Nixon administration involved in the White House “plumbers’ unit to control the leaks from the White House), came to have dinner at Coppola’s Restaurant, 825 Main Street. As he sat at table 51 (a quiet table for 2) he enjoyed a delicious meal and gladly autographed a menu.
As you can see…I have been an avid collector of autographs through the years. Hahaha… and also not at all abashed to waddle to all these 1983 events….
With Charlie Sheen headlining all news stories lately I thought of the day his dad, Martin Sheen came for dinner at our restaurant. It was May 27, 1983. I was expecting my first born son and was quite a spectacle. When I think back I don’t know what I was thinking that instead hiding out at home I was right in the middle of everything and in the way of everybody.
James Cagney was a regular at the restaurant, arranging a dinner party with Martin Sheen as a guest. Of course I was taking up space in the foyer and I couldn’t help but get Martin Sheen’s attention. He asked when the baby was due and hoped that I could wait till August 3rd, his birthday. I exclaimed that I didn’t think I could last that long but would be honored if my baby could share his birthday. Little did I know I was pretty close to that date when I had Joe. Joe was born July 25th.
While waiting for the rest of the dinner party to show up some of the guests were at the bar along with Martin Sheen. While everyone was enjoying cocktails Mr. Sheen suddenly got up off the barstool and told them he had to do an errand. He came up to me and asked where the nearest church was. I directed him to Holy Trinity and he came back later to join the dinner party. I thought how interesting that he provided no explanation but just excused himself making going to church a priority. Remind me to tell you about James Cagney next…