The Trump phone call that sent your Westfield Historian scurrying off to Erie for a recent BeeLines story was serendipitous in more ways than one. Research for a new series about the history of Calarco's Restaurant had been on hold until a chance to interview Vinnie Calarco, proprietor, where he now lives at the VA Hospital in Erie Pa. So, not one to miss the perfect opportunity to "kill two birds with one stone," I made another beeline up the hill from Hamot to the VA. Finding his room empty, I was directed to the floor dining room where I found Vinnie Calarco chatting with a couple of fellow residents. I waved to him, "Hi Vinnie!" and his face lighted up with that well-known warm and friendly smile. Soon we were exchanging delighted pleasantries before delving into the "business at hand."
"It's not a restaurant!" exclaimed Vinnie, "It'sit's FRIENDS!" We talked about how Calarco's is a gathering place for families and friends who are treated like families to reunion and catch up, while enjoying Westfield "comfort food." Spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, fish fry and homemade soups are a few of the "delectable dishes concocted by chef Ginny (Calarco) Gollnitz", Vinnie and Charlotte Calarco's only daughter. After his health began to decline, the Calarco's considered trying to sell the restaurant, but Vinnie now assured me that it would stay in the family' "I'm passing it on to Steve and Ginny!"
Calarco's is Westfield's oldest, continuously operating eating establishment. "In Italy, Papa's family had always been in business you know we don't say 'dad' or 'father' it's always 'Papa' so when Papa came to this country in 1909, he started working immediately planting grape roots in Portland. He came to Westfield because his brother, Carl Calarco, had already settled here."
This portrait of Jennie (Squillace) and Virginio J. Calarco now graces the front of Calarco’s Italian Restaurant Menu. Calarco’s is located at 15 Market Street in Westfield.
Vinnie's "Papa" was Virginio J. Calarco who was only 15 when he arrived here. He worked all summer long for a woman, and his pay was that she taught him to speak English." Papa (Virginio) Calarco was soon employed by the New York Central Railroad as a track maintenance laborer, a job which he held for almost 50 years, retiring in 1957. In 1915 he married Jennie Squillace, and they had two sons, Anthony (Tony) and Vincent (Vinnie), and three daughters, Grace (Trippy), Gerry (Geraldine Harper), and Theresa (Russo).
To properly support his growing family, around 1930, Virginio Calarco also purchased a store on Market Street to run a grocery store there he is listed as the proprietor of a fruit store on the 1930 U.S. Census for Westfield. "Papa ran the grocery store during the Depression. He had a heart this big." Vinnie holds his hands and arms out wide, smiling. "He gave away food nobody paid him until after about four years there was nothing left - but we never went hungry in Papa's and Mama's house. Mama canned everything, every color in the rainbow - peaches, pears, tomatoes, deer, beef while Papa worked on the railroad and ran the grocery store. One day in 1933, Papa showed me a big charge account book, records of all the money owed. He told me 'they won't pay me,' and closed the book, opened the big wood stove, threw the book in and shut the door.
It was 1933 when Prohibition ended, so Papa got a liquor license and opened a barroom and restaurant, while Mama went into the kitchen and started cooking. We lived upstairs, but took our meals in the dining room area of the restaurant. There was only one bathroom, downstairs in the bar room and restaurant, so when we children needed to take our baths, the customers would have to wait their turn to use the room."
The office of the Westfield Historian is located at 117 Union Street, in the small green building on the north side of driveway. Office hours are Monday through Friday, 9 to 11 a.m., or by appointment. The Westfield Historian phone number is 326-2457, and the email mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Calarco's Bar and Dining Room started when Vinnie was 10 years old. "I started tending bar there at the tender age of 13," Vinnie exclaimed. "A 12-ounce glass of beer was a nickel, a shot of liquor was 15 cents, double for 25 cents; a bottle of beer was 15 cents. A hamburger was 15 cents, a full spaghetti dinner was 35 cents, and a special T-bone steak dinner was 75 cents."
The grocery store and first Calarco's bar and dining room were housed in what is now just the bar-room side of Calarco's Restaurant. The building next door to the right (south) was a laundry. Please "stay tuned" for part two of the history of Calarco's Restaurant in a future BeeLines.