My favorite part of my job is talking to all the people I meet. This past year at one of my seminars I met a woman who, as soon as I said hello to her, she proclaimed her love for Adams Fairacre Farms (the specialty grocery store in my area where I have my seminars). The woman, having grown up in NYC where her mom bought produce from street carts, explained that the store reminded her of her youth. I must have looked puzzled because she said, “Honey, I am really old! I’m 87.” She didn’t look that old at all! As we chit-chatted, she slipped an Italian expression into our conversation. “You’re Italian!”, I blurted out. My delight encouraged this Signora to tell me about her most interesting life.
When the Signora first got married to her husband, who was an opera singer, they moved to Rome because he had won a scholarship at The Santa Cecilia Conservatory. This was interesting to me because listening to opera was part of my upbringing. My mom grew up listening to opera with her dad and she passed this passion on to us. I loved opera, but I couldn’t sing beautifully like my mom. I asked her if any of her children inherited their father’s voice.
She told me that one of her daughters did inherit her father’s voice. Unfortunately, he didn’t want her to follow in his footsteps. She rolled her eyes as she told me that he had said that women opera singers were divas and he didn’t want his daughter to be a diva.
Later on in life, after she and her husband divorced, she said that she need to sfoggare, which in Italian means to unleash or vent. When she turned 70 she started write and she has since written 6 novels. And one of them is called The Diva!
Her story affected me and I can’t stop thinking about her. My blog musings are typically about growing up in a restaurant family. I am never very specific about my role in the family, but after speaking with the Signora, she gave me the courage to sfoggare!
It was a struggle being a female in a male-dominated family. I am not saying women weren’t important in my family, but they had certain roles to play that came from the pre-war mentality of provincial Italy. My father’s first born was a girl (me) while his brothers had first born sons. In this large Italian family consisting of aunts, uncles and numerous cousins all trying to navigate a new American life and running an Italian restaurant, I tended to get lost. They preferred me to be seen and not heard, but I wasn’t the quiet type. I longed to be considered, but I learned quickly that I needed to find other ways to get what I wanted.
I was good in school and it was one way of getting some satisfaction and control. I worked hard to get high grades; I won some awards at school and I studied business in college. But it didn’t really get acknowledged in my family. High grades didn’t make a difference in the restaurant business. What mattered was the time and physical labor that you put into it.
After I graduated, I worked for a year as an accountant in a firm. But when my family opened another restaurant, I went back to the family business to give a hand. I worked as a server and hostess, the typical front of house jobs for a female, but I what I really wanted to do was work behind the scenes. I slowly managed to work in the office and I quietly made accounting changes. Business was my passion and I enjoyed learning about the restaurant business. I analyzed the numbers and learned where to focus my attention. When I married my husband I found a great partner. He appreciated and valued what I could contribute, so we teamed up.
Later in life, we had to deal with the passing of my father, but together my husband and I kept the restaurant going and with some perseverance we managed a successful restaurant for 20 years. In 2011, we made the business decision to close the restaurant and change our career paths. And suddenly, I no longer had the restaurant or my husband to lean on and I had to work on my own.
It took me 50 years to find the courage to use my voice. Sometimes I wonder why at my age I am trying so hard to do something new, but then I think of the Signora writing 6 books when she turned 70! So here I am, the face of 825 MAIN. Even though I can’t sing a note, I am finally using my voice!
See our Olive & Caper Sauce recipe.