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In 1918, my Grandpa Petti arrived in Cleveland, Ohio, settled in the Collinwood neighborhood, and opened Petti’s Grocery. As the story goes, he opened it just to feed his eight children. He would travel downtown on the streetcar to buy fruits and vegetables to sell in his grocery store. My mother, Dora, was born in 1914 as the second oldest of eight.  She both attended school and worked in the grocery store. When she was 16 years old, her parents went on vacation to Italy, and she was left to take care of the business.  She was forced to quit school and began to run the family business.  My mom was a workaholic. Living above the store made it easy for her to work all day. Running the store during the day – prepping, cutting, working with the purveyors, serving the customers... she even managed being the butcher.   She would throw a hind quarter over her shoulder, bring it out of the cooler, toss it on the block and cut it up – by hand... there were no band-saws back then. She cut round steak very thinly; cut the pork chops with the cleaver and was ahead of her time for a woman running a business.  At the end of the day, she prepped for the next day and filled the shelves at night.   Then along came the milkman who worked for his uncle’s dairy, Manfredi Dairy.

My mother fell in love with that milkman, my father Angelo, and they married in 1936. She remained working for her father until WWII began.   The Black Hand “Mafia” tried to shake down Grandpa Petti.  He told them he would close the store before he gave them a penny and that’s what he did.  By the time Ma and Pa had their three wonderful sons….Carl in ’39, me in ‘40 and Fritz in ’43……she was itching to go back in the grocery business.  So in 1944 Mom and Pa bought the grocery store from Grandpa Petti, we moved in upstairs and renamed the store Quagliata’s Foods of Quality.  That’s where my brothers and I learned how to stock shelves, sort soda pop bottles, deliver groceries and butcher meat.   I can remember being 14 years old and every Thursday I would cut pork butts and make sausage. I had to stand on a Coke box to reach the meat grinder to stuff the sausage.   We owned the store with the attached house until 1957, when we bought another bigger grocery store on the corner of 93rd and Yale – which is where I “earned” my college education.  Anytime anyone asked me where I went to college, I answered “Yale”. Mom and Pa and their three boys ran the grocery store called Angelo’s Savmor, along with several other employees. It was part of a group of other small local store owners, who banded together to buy product more economically to allow us compete against the bigger chain stores – a consortium of its day.   In the mid-60’s, we knew it was time to move on and sold that store to the landlord.   Next to come was the big move to Mentor, Ohio, where we rented a recently-closed restaurant called the White House, from my mother’s uncle, Fred Lariccia.

We added Quagliata’s and hence - Quagliata’s White House was created – our first foray into the restaurant business.   In 1970, we added one of the finest gourmet dining rooms between New York and Chicago named The Tre Scalini Room.  It was the place to see and be seen in the city... tuxedo-clad captains, waiters, tableside cooking, including some of my specialties: Caesar salad, spinach salad, scampi, rack of lamb, stuffed Maine lobsters (live from the tank), fettuccine alfredo, chateaubriand, crepes suzette, spun sugar and café diablo.  Every table captain was flambéing something, sterno flames all over the room. It was a quite the sight. In 1975, we opened The Spaghetti Company in Mayfield and later another Spaghetti Company in North Olmsted along with the opening of Ristorante Giovanni’s in Beachwood. By then, much of the higher-end clientele was frequenting Giovanni’s so in 1979, we transformed Quagliata’s White House into Italian Gardens Smorgasbord, of which the name speaks for itself.  Continuing with our growth, in 1983, we opened a Spaghetti Company in Solon and in 1988, and Café Angelo in Mayfield Hts.

In 2006, I heard about a certain pizza place in Las Vegas called Settebella.  So I checked it out and liked what I saw, which got my wheels spinning. As I started looking for pizza ovens, I found Stefano Ferrara Forni from Naples, Italy.  While attending the National Restaurant Show in Chicago, I happened to have dinner at a pizzeria named Spacca Napoli.   I met the nicest man named Jonathan Goldsmith, who could speak beautiful Italian which made me sort of jealous.   My friends and I ordered everything on the menu, along with a few bottles of wine.  Jonathan joined us and shared with us about what he learned in Italy.  I fell in love with his place and he willingly shared with me the details of his operation. That experience   prompted me to make many trips to Chicago, San Diego, Seattle, Las Vegas and Pittsburgh checking out every wood-burning pizzeria that was part of the Vera Pizza Napaletana Association.  Eventually, I bought the land and building occupied by a former coffee shop, and renovated it to become what is now, Crostatas.  Renovations started in November of 2007. In February 2008, Ferrara Forni sent all the bricks and mortar from Naples and arrived with his assistant Raffaele. Three days and $35,000 later, we had a beautiful pizza oven. We finished the renovations in about 10 months and were in business. So now the fun starts!   What are we going to serve?  With all the years in the food business, I wanted only the best of everything - my mother’s famous words were “if you want it done right, do it yourself”.  So I did - and still do.  Even though I have hired a great team, I am still the key architect behind what we do and how we do it.   I made the dough every day in my private dough room with the controlled temperature the way Jonathan showed me.   I made cavatellis and raviolis and even had my mother making arancini until she was 92 years old.  I told her that her walker was interfering with business and she finally agreed it was time to retire.. She said if she was 10 years younger she would have loved to work here. Mom passed in 2011 just shy of her 97th birthday.    I still cut all the Daisyfield pork butts for the sausage, meatballs and arancini balls and I cut the strip steaks and porterhouse steaks.  Sixty years later, I am still filling the casings with sausage. I seam the pork legs from the organic hogs from New Creation Farms in Chardon, Ohio to create our pork cutlets.   Our 8oz double lobe chicken breast come in fresh from North Carolina.  Our sea bass, cod and tuna come from Euclid Fish of which I still skin and portion out.  Crooked River Coffee Company around the corner roasts our coffee beans.  Keeping family tradition from the 40’s and 50’s, we make our own bread crumbs from ciabatta bread from Orlando’s Bakery that Sonny and Johnny Orlando and their families operate (their father, Chester, baptized me).  Our fresh mozzarella is produced by my cousins at Miceli’s Dairy.   I worked at Miceli’s selling cheese in my younger days.  We purchase our Italian imported products from our good friends at Sidari Foods.  Sidari brings in all our imported oils, cheeses (Bufala milk mozzarella) and pastas.   In 2004, I brought in burrata cheese from California’s Gioia Cheese Company – a time when not many in Cleveland had ever heard of it.  I go to the market at Northern Ohio Food Terminal twice a week for our produce – buying only the best and freshest.  That Caesar salad dressing I made tableside in the Tre Scalini Room, I now make by the gallons along with our Balsamic vinaigrette dressing.   Our stuffed artichokes with breading and olive oil along with our marinara sauce is made the way my Sicilian grandmother taught my mother, with a lot of love. Having the greatest crew working for me, I have showed them how to make almost everything - from the dough, lemon curd, raspberry sauce, cannoli filling, spumoni, ravioli, cavatelli, meatballs, roasted red peppers and tomatoes, stuffed peppers, grilled eggplant, to our soups and sauces.   Well, that tells my story, and the reason you see me here all the time... I live it and love it.               

 

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