Linda Collis knew Angelo’s before it was Angelo’s. And, as a grade-schooler, she knew what she liked.
“I always had to get spaghetti and spumoni,” she said, reflecting to the mid-1950s, when she and her parents were regulars at the West Chestnut Spaghetti Inn, just inside the Washington line.
Six decades, two generations, two name changes and a relocation later, the retired teacher now known as Linda Faust remains a devotee of the restaurant now known as Angelo’s.
“I guess tastes do become more ‘adult,’ ” she said cheerfully. “I like Pasta Silvio and instead of spumoni, they have gelato. But I still like the spaghetti.”
For 75 years, patrons have liked, loved, embraced Angelo’s for its Italian cuisine, extensive menu, salads, drinks and desserts. It is a business that, heading toward its diamond anniversary March 28, continues to sparkle locally.
Three generations of Passalacquas have been polishing that gem since 1939, when they opened a small tavern for local laborers, which morphed into a bar/restaurant specializing in spaghetti and Italian bread, and which continued to evolve into the large enterprise that it is today.
Angelo’s ultimately outgrew its outdated home – 955 W. Chestnut St. – and moved a mile west in 2008 to a modern, more spacious venue in North Franklin Township. Yet, despite a multitude of change, it endures as a family-run enterprise that is family-friendly and food-favored.
All in the family
Michael Passalacqua is the current owner, a position he assumed 22 years ago with his father Silvio’s retirement. The son devotes a lot of energy to, and is enormously proud of, his diamond-jubilee restaurant near the diamond of Consol Energy Park.
But he nearly dodged a pitch his father delivered 33 years ago.
“Dad called out of the clear blue and asked if I wanted to get into the restaurant business,” Michael said.
Michael was a Kent State University police corporal who was contented with the work. He had been a wrestler at Trinity High School, and now in 1981, he was wrestling with his loyalties.
“I pondered it,” he said. “At the time, the business was struggling.”
A somewhat tentative Michael said yes and joined the staff that year along with sister Tonne, who revised the menu after likewise leaving a job. Angelo’s regained its footing and eventually picked up momentum.
For the most part, Michael said, he has followed the principles established by his predecessors.
“I do exactly what my father and grandfather did before me. Being around for 75 years has a lot to do with our core values and staying true to our roots.”
Angelo Passalacqua and his wife, Giacomina, launched the tavern in 1939 mostly as a gathering spot for the many glass, steel and farm workers toiling nearby. Angelo died in 1953 and Giacomina ran it until 1958, when she retired and handed the business to her son, Silvio, and daughter, Carmelina DeStefano.
New owners, new name. The spaghetti inn was rechristened Angelo’s that year.
Michael, who will turn 60 in May, grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s and remembers the comfortable dichotomy that existed between bar and restaurant at the time.
“It was funny, but at the bar. everyone was a blue-collar guy – steel, Fort Pitt Beer, farmers, and the dining room was filled with families at the same time.”
The Passalacqua family ties at Angelo’s at that time were as lengthy as they were strong, The co-owners’ spouses, Patricia Passalacqua and Anthony DeStefano, were on the payroll as well.
Carmelina retired in 1981, leaving Silvio as the lone proprietor. Silvio, now 84 and chairman of the North Franklin supervisors, retired 11 years later, putting the business in the custody of his son, the ex-cop.
He didn’t let it handcuff him.
Moving a landmark
Tradition is a foundation of Angelo’s, but early in the 21st century, Michael decided to break from it in a profound but necessary manner.
The building on West Chestnut was cramped and uncomfortable, and the parking lot across the street was small. And crossing a busy street was downright perilous, especially for older customers at night.
Fifty years after having its name emblazoned on the front, Angelo’s shut down there in 2008. It reopened a week later on a two-acre lot in North Franklin, at a venue that was about twice the size – 5,600 square feet, compared with 3,000.
“I’ve been unbelievably pleased here,” said Michael, who is renovating the old restaurant area into a business complex with six private offices. He is keeping the second- and third-story apartments.
“We made the move for multiple reasons. First and foremost, the kitchen in the old restaurant was so hot, small and miserable that I had trouble finding people to work there. Changes in the cooling of restaurants came in. Why cook in 105 degrees when you could cook in 70? A lot of restaurants have that issue.
”The second was the parking lot. There were 27 spaces for 125 people coming in. And a very bad parking situation was made worse because a lot of our clientele were older. People wanted to come here, but didn’t want to tackle (crossing) Chestnut Street.
“The third was the West End continued to deteriorate economically over the years, and the fourth is if I didn’t build the restaurant up here, someone else was going to.”
Patrons today savor many of the flavors that were available a half-century, even three-fourths of a century, back. Michael acknowledges that changes have been made – had to have been made – with selections, but refuses to stray from a number of items that have made Angelo’s Angelo’s.
“Our menu has never been overhauled, but it’s constantly tweaked,” he said. “While some techniques, and maybe ingredients, have changed, our sauce, spaghetti and meatballs are all my grandmother’s recipes. We make all of our sauces, dressings, lasagnas, meatballs.
“We stick to our roots and try not to be something we aren’t.”
Linda Faust is sticking to her dining roots. She still eats at Angelo’s, and has taken her children and grandchildren there – extending to four the number of Collis-Faust generations who have frequented Angelo’s.
They’ve one-upped the ownership family.
She said that even though her husband, Terry, grew up in the West End, she introduced him to the place many years ago. Few outside of the Passalacquas know Angelo’s as well.
“The biggest thing I can remember is how family-oriented it was,” she said, reflecting on her childhood visits. “It has always been that way.
“I taught at Wash High, and when (Terry and I) became adults, we went there after wrestling matches. Silvio loved our oldest daughter because when she was 3, she could pronounce his last name. People would get a big kick when she said, ‘Silvio Passalacqua.’ ”
What’s in a name? A lot when it’s Passalacqua.
Angelo’s will celebrate its 75th anniversary March 30 with an open house from 2 to 6 p.m.