By Dan Shine
Read part two.
Do you remember your first pizza? The Boy does: It was on an evening in 1959 when the family had gone out to see a black-and-white “cops and robbers” movie in New Haven. On the way home, the family had stopped off at a place that father called “Zuppardi’s ah-beetz.” The restaurant was located behind and to the right of the current location, and it was just a small building with maybe eight tables in all. And, oh!—the air was thick with wonderful aromas. To the boy, this strange new food was both exotic and exciting. After what seemed like forever, his small hands finally gripped a hot, steaming slice. He couldn’t wait to try it, and in his haste he burned his mouth on the first bite. But nevertheless on that night, a lifelong love affair with pizza was born.
After that, he couldn’t wait to return; and when the family finally did get back there in 1963, Zuppardi’s had relocated next door, replacing a former laundromat on the ground floor of the family residence; and the new restaurant appeared pretty much the same as it does today…
Lori Zuppardi has her own Pizza Memories: she remembers growing up on the second floor, up above the restaurant. When she was five years old she went to work—as did all the Zuppardi children—helping out at the family business. There, small hands folded mountainous stacks of pizza boxes to satisfy “to go” orders. As the children grew older, they would be given larger tasks and more responsibility. “Working together with our family gave us kids an early feeling of worthiness and responsibility,” says Lori Zuppardi.
But how did the business begin, and why in such an improbable location? Well, it’s like this:
Domenico “Domenic” Zuppardi was born in 1897 in Salerno, Italy. Domenic and Angelina Zuppardi came to America in about 1920, and first settled in Fair Haven. From 1923-1934, young Domenic worked for a couple of New Haven’s Italian bakeries, baking bread.
In 1934 the Zuppardis moved to Union Avenue, just down the street from the brand new St. Lawrence Church. Domenic opened a Salerno’s Bakery in a building on the back lot, and he and his wife eventually began dividing their time between baking bread and producing pizza. Their son Anthony “Tony” Zuppardi, born in 1925 worked in the restaurant from the time he was very small, and remained there until his Country called him to serve as a ship’s baker in World War II.
When the war was over, Tony came home and enrolled in college to learn accounting; but in 1947, his father had a stroke, and Tony had to leave school to take over the running of the business. At about the same time, he met and married Frances Fernino. And also at about that time, Salerno’s Bakery became Zuppardi’s Apizza, for Tony Zuppardi had chosen to concentrate on making great pizza, and leaving the baking to others.
Tony and Frances Zuppardi were the ultimate loving couple—their daughters call them Love Birds–together, they had four children and they worked side-by-side in the restaurant for many years. They were inseparable–together day and night making pizza—and every night when the restaurant closed, they would sit and have coffee “and” before ending their day. They never fought over anything, except for cards: “Mom cheated at cards,” says daughter Cheryl with a smile.
Their togetherness included the good as well as the bad: when both were diagnosed with cancer, they would alternate their chemotherapy treatments into a staggered schedule, so that each could care for the other during their worst and the weakest of days.