CHARLEROI – Orlando “Tito” Giorgi thought his nickname was too controversial as a name for the Italian restaurant he opened shortly after World War II ended because of the Communist leader of Yugoslavia at the time known as Josip Broz Tito.
So he selected the name of his brother, Rego, for the restaurant in Charleroi he sold last month after his family made it a local landmark known for its homemade recipes.
“I can’t get over it,” Giorgi, 92, said Monday at Rego’s Restaurant & Hotel, where he and his wife, Lorraine, still gather each day for lunch and dinner.
“After 64 years, how can you turn it off?” Lorraine Giorgi said.
Charleroi Borough Council is preparing to honor the Giorgi family, as well as the Ducoeurs, former owners the of now-closed Orange’s Gift Department Store, Dec. 13 for retiring after having survived decades in business in the Mon Valley town, Charleroi Manager Donn Henderson said.
His cousin, Evonne Henderson of Fallowfield Township, took ownership of Rego’s Nov. 14 and has no plans to change the recipes or 1940s decor of the bar and restaurant housed in a 112-year-old building at 601 McKean Ave.
“That’s what people have been used to, forever,” Evonne Henderson said. “I wouldn’t fix something that isn’t broken.”
Giorgi said he wrote his brother from England during the war, instructing him to look for a business they could purchase as partners. He then used the G.I. bill to obtain a loan to purchase Washington Importing Co. in Washington, a venture that survives today, but one that he abandoned after three years.
“I wanted to come back to Charleroi,” he said. “Charleroi was booming. It had 16 shoe stores, six furniture stores.”
The brothers purchased the tiny Sam’s Restaurant with 10 booths across the street from the hotel in 1948, and then expanded it with an Italian theme.
“Originally it was all family, aunts and uncles, doing all the work,” Lorraine Giorgi said.
Her mother, Julia Nesti of nearby North Belle Vernon, created all of the recipes, with the homemade raviolis and veal scallopini remaining the most-popular dishes.
“She was a beautiful cook,” Tito Giorgi said.
Customers also rave about the “bagna calda,” an olive oil dipping sauce served with garlic toast,” Lorraine Giorgi said.
“We’re famous for it,” she said.
Among the famous people who have eaten here were Liberace, former Steelers linebacker Jack Ham and team founder Art Rooney.
The original restaurant was destroyed in a suspected arson shortly after Christmas in 1969.
Three months later it reopened in its present location, the former Wellington Hotel, once owned by former Washington County Commissioner Ed Paluso.
Evonne Henderson said the only immediate changes she has planned include adding a few new appetizers to the menu and expanding the bar list to appeal to today’s tastes. She also plans to keep open the 32-room hotel without making any of its residents relocate.