Joe Rillo's History
The following is a bit of history about Joe Rillo, written by Joe's youngest child, Michele:
We all have dreams and ideas - here is how this one began: My father Joseph A. Rillo was born in Windber, Pennsylvania. As a young child he acquired the nickname “Tuppy” ( he had a little trouble saying “puppy” when he was a toddler) so his family and childhood friends called him Tuppy. I will refer to him as Joe or dad. Now Joe came from a very large family. He had nine sisters and four brothers. WOW! My grandparents were busy! Speaking of my grandparents, they immigrated to the United States in the very early 1900's from Benevento, Italy. In 1924 the year my dad, Joe, was born, my grandparents purchased an empty lot at the corner of Graham Avenue and 21st Street in Windber, PA. They built a three story building, owned and operated a business on the first floor and lived on the second and third. This business started out as an “everything” store, including a butcher shop. In the end, it was solely a restaurant known as the “Fairway Cafe”.
According to the family stories, my Grandma and Grandpa Rillo were hard working entrepreneur's but it was my grandma Rillo who was the more self-assertive one. Managing a business, making deals her way and passing on a tradition of Old World Italian Style cooking in the family restaurant. While my father may have acquired some inspiration from his father and mother he had idea's, vision and talent of his own.
As time rolled on my dad's life story became more interesting. A more detailed version will be included in my book. For now here is a brief time-line:
- Growing up - Joe was a boy scout who loved the outdoors and western movies!
- Patriot – April of 1943 he joined the United States Military assigned to Company H of the 506th parachute infantry 101st Airborne division. Known as a Screaming Eagle one of his duties was a Scout. In September 1944 he parachuted in an operation known as “Market Garden” which led into Bastogne known as the “Battle of the Bulge”. He did not talk about the war or the battles, only parachuting.
- 1949 he married Magdalene Nestranski who became known as Manny Rillo
- 1955 they owned a restaurant in Somerset Pennsylvania called the Circle 219. It had an Italian – Western theme.
- 1960 they moved to Carlisle, Pennsylvania where they bought an “out of the way” restaurant/ nightclub. Changed the name to Rillo's and for the next 40 years made small town history.
In 1960 while just starting out a bank executive in Carlisle warned my mom and dad they would never make it. “Nobody eats spaghetti around here - this is Pennsylvania dutch country”. Well they did make and the bank executive who I quoted ate at Rillo's three nights a week!
Rillo's Restaurant patrons included numerous people who dined out all over the world, it was an honor to hear their compliments such as “this is the best”. Other patrons included very famous repeat customers. A certain (won't mention the name) NFL Football team had a dish named after them. In conclusion our best customers were the infamous ones closer to home and our heart who loved dining and making memories at Rillo's.
There is much more history to be told for those who are interested. When I am finished compiling it all together there will be a link. For those of you who would like to add your memories of Rillo's, please submit them using our online contact form or by regular mail, Rillo's Italian Seasonings, PO Box 86, Biglerville PA 17307.
Joe Rillo had a vision, was a smart risk taker and a man of action who started to make his dream a reality. In 1973 he was diagnosed with lymphoma given one year to live. His strong will and zest for life kept him alive for ten more years. Having the privilege of growing up as my dad's shadow I learned he never really intended to own a “traditional” restaurant. He believed in specializing in a product no one else had, never skimp on quality and give customer's your best service. In 1984 his life ended before he could finish his dream, my intention is to keep the dream alive and never-ending.