By ANDY GARDNER
MASSENA -- After nearly 70 years of operation, Violi's Restaurant will serve its last meal on Sept. 27.
Restaurant co-owner Dominick Violi, who owns Violi's with his brother Ross, said the pair is getting on in years and decided to call it quits after nearly seven decades.
"My next birthday, I'll be 80 and my brother is 76. He's wanted to retire. My wife wanted me to retire. I guess it was just time," Violi said in a phone interview.
He noted that "business has been very, very slow" since an April accident when Brett Bouchard, 17, had an arm severed near the elbow while cleaning a pasta-making machine. He had the arm re-attached after several surgeries and the story made national headlines.
Since then, Violi's manager Mia Violi posted to Facebook a request from Paul Jeser, who says he’s a friend of the Violi brothers, asking people to write letters in their favor to the state attorney general.
"After almost 70 years of being a respected steward to the North Country, the Violi family is experiencing a legal battle with the partial aim of criminalizing the men who have contributed a great deal to the region," Jeser says.
"Dominick and Ross Violi have not only been passionate business folks, they have also been there for those who have been in need of assistance. Whether it is raising funds for the local Hospice, the Louisville Fire Department, Trinity Catholic School, Massena Memorial Hospital or the Remington Museum, these men have never wavered in their commitment to assist others."
Dominick Violi said he and his brother are trying to help their employees find new jobs.
"We're trying to find them a place to get employed, they're all excellent employees," Dominick Violi said.
Founded In 1945
Violi's was founded in 1945 by the Violi brothers' parents Rosario "Ross" and Maria Violi. He said they first operated on Willow Street.
"In those days, there were neighborhood bars and grills," Violi said. "You offered spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, pork chops, cabbage rolls were big at that time, everyone had cabbage rolls, meatball sandwiches."
He said in 1947, the family bought the building on Center Street, in which they have remained to this day.
Through the 1950s, they were a popular spot for workers building the Reynolds Metals plant and baseball and softball teams to come in for pizza and beer.
"In '45 when the boys came home from service, they talked about pizza and my mother did pizza," Violi said.
He went to Italy in the late 1950s and returned with a recipe that inspired him to create what would become a Violi's staple, saltimbocca a la Violi, a veal dish.
"That's the saltimbocca everyone in the area does today, but it's not the saltimbocca from Italy, it's the saltimbocca from Violi's," he said.
Steak a la Violi
After the brothers took over in 1961, they added another of their most popular dishes, steak a la Violi.
"It's something that my mother used to do. I added to it, changed it a bit," Dominick Violi said.
"The tribute is to my mother and father. They came from the old country," he said. He added that his grandfather first came to Massena in 1898 and helped dig the old power canal between the St. Lawrence and Grasse rivers. He left and returned in 1924 to be best man in his brother's wedding and decided to make Massena his permanent home.
"Our family, all our family worked to create the business we have," Violi said.
He gives a lot of credit to those not related by blood, but who joined the Violi family through sweat.
"Over the years we've been lucky to have the staff we've had," he said, noting that a few worked at the restaurant for more than 30 years. "They were the best of employees."
Violi says after retiring, he plans to spend summers in Massena and the colder months elsewhere.
"I love Massena," he said.