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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rochester's Pizza History Update: Giuseppe's

Back in December I did a post about Rochester’s pizza history, in which I noted that the first entry I could find for a pizzeria in the old Rochester city directories was in 1954 for an establishment named Giuseppe’s on Lake Ave. I wondered whether there might’ve been any connection to the current Giuseppe’s restaurant in Gates.

The other day I got an email from one of the owners of Giuseppe’s, with some details about its history. Turns out that yes, the Giuseppe’s on Lake Ave. was the ancestor of the current place. And that the Lake Ave. address wasn’t even the first location for Giuseppe’s. Here’s what he had to say:

My name is Marciano Chinappi and I am the fourth-generation chef and part owner of Giuseppe’s in Gates. My father Joe, my brother Joe Jr., and I run the day to day operations at the restaurant. We are a truly involved family. We watched our parents, and their parents, and their parents spend their lives in the restaurant.

In the early 1920s Giuseppe Petrillo and his brother moved here from Naples, Italy. They were both bread bakers by trade in their home town. They decided to start a bakery together here in Rochester. After a few years they decided that life would better suit them in their own separate eateries. My great grandfather then started Giuseppe’s and his brother started Petrillo Bakery on Lyell Ave.

Our first pizzeria/bakery was on State St. My grandmother Serafina has told me that the first pizzas served at our place were topped with just imported canned tomatoes, grated pecorino romano, and anchovies. We still sell quite a few of these simple pies, mostly to the old timers from our old neighborhoods.

Over the years the location of our restaurant moved around a bit. The first store was on State St., the second was in fact the location on Lake Ave. [that was referred to in the blog]. We have also run places in Brown Square, on Jay St., and eventually ending up on Lyell Rd. in the early '70s. About six years ago we had to move from that location to our current location.

Over the years the recipes and techniques have been passed down, first from Giuseppe and his wife Josephine to their children Serafina, Theresa, Rosie, Salvatore, and Tommy, to my father Joe, and finally to Joe Jr. and myself. The history of our restaurant always suprises me. A man in his mid eighties had lunch at our restaurant a few weeks ago. He told me that we catered his wedding in the 1940s.

Mr. Chinappi went on to explain that most of this history has been passed down by word of mouth, and that there's not much printed evidence left of Giuseppe's past: "My ancestors, and I'm sure many of the other pizzeria owners ancestors were more worried about slinging good pies then documenting it."

That's true, of course, of nearly all our forebears' lives. Oral history gets passed down from generation to generation, for a while, but all too often it eventually gets forgotten, and lost forever. I know; I can trace my ancestry back exactly two generations, to my grandparents. Everyone before them - who they were, where they lived, what they did - has been erased from our collective memory.

Well, if it's true that words in cyberspace will last as long as there are humans to read them, then this should help preserve one small slice of local history. I'm glad to be able to do that, and to share it with others, who I hope will find it as interesting as I do.

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