Business was brisk Sunday as hundreds of "regular" customers came to Angelo's Restaurant to help the Passalacqua family celebrate the 75th anniversary of an eatery that has weathered economic downturns and competition from national chains to serve food prepared from decades-old Italian recipes to residents of "Little Washington" -- and beyond.
Decades of customer loyalty was rewarded with free food and beverages at a 2-6 p.m. open house.
Michael Passalacqua, whose grandparents started the Washington County restaurant in 1939, said he invited customers to the free feast because he "is humbled the community has embraced the business and the family for all these years." He said he is "proud of the contributions Angelo's has made to the community."
He and his wife, Treena, greeted guests and mixed and mingled. Hostesses Elizabeth McClelland and Rachel Iams photographed every guest.
Angelo's long run is remarkable in an industry where 90 percent of independent restaurants close during the first year of operation, according to a study by The Restaurant Brokers. The remaining surviving establishments have an average life span of five years, the study said.
Though Mr. Passalacqua said he knows how to cook, he doesn't cook at the restaurant.
"If you would ever see me in a white jacket, it wouldn't be a good thing," he quipped. "It would mean a lot of staff called off sick."
Family recipes for sauce, lasagna, salad dressings, stocks, soups and other culinary offerings have been handed down through the Passalacqua family for three generations.
Mr. Passalacqua sent email invitations to 7,500 regular customers. He wasn't sure how many would show up, but he estimated the staff made 800 meatballs, 60-70 pounds of cooked pasta and 50 pounds of grilled vegetables.
Regina Lucas said she and her husband, Dennis McAteer, have been driving from Peters to Washington for 30 years because the food and the service are consistently good. "We've never had a disappointing meal here," she said.
Throughout the open house, foot traffic flowed evenly, with most tables filled most of the time. Customers ate and politely left the tables to make way for the next wave of diners arriving from the buffet.
Washington Mayor Brenda Davis came to enjoy the food and to present Mr. Passalacqua with a proclamation thanking and congratulating him and his family.
The current location at 2109 N. Franklin Drive actually is in North Franklin, "but the city line is right there," the mayor said, pointing out the window of the restaurant. Mr. Passalacqua moved the business there in 2008 from 955 W. Chestnut St. in Washington.
Shortly after Angelo and Giacomina Passalacqua moved from Sicily to Washington, they opened a small neighborhood tavern. When they added one entree, they named their business the West Chestnut Spaghetti Inn. It wasn't called Angelo's until 1958 -- five years after patriarch Angelo Passalacqua died.
The parents of current restaurant operator, Silvio and Patricia Passalacqua, operated the business for 42 years. For 27 of those years, Silvio was partners with his sister and her husband, Carmelina and Anthony DeStefano.
Michael Passalacqua was working as a police officer at Kent State University in Ohio when he got a call from his parents in 1981, asking if he'd like to come home and work in the family business.
"I thought about it, I came home, and I haven't looked back," he said.
Mr. Passalacqua's twin sister, Michel,, traveled from New Jersey for the open house. She and her brother worked in the family business while attending Trinity High School and during their college years, but Michel left the area after graduating college. Their mother died 17 years ago, but their father and their Uncle Tony attended the party.
Michael Passalacqua has worked 22 years with the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association and was state chairman in 2003. In 2009, he was Pennsylvania Restaurateur of the Year for his longevity, success and commitment to the industry.
Linda Wilson Fuoco: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-722-0087.