October 1st in 1979 was a momentous day for the city of Boston and for the North End. The city was still polarized by the forced busing of its public schools and racial tensions were palpable throughout the neighborhoods. Ray Flynn was the mayor and Umberto Medeiros was the cardinal. The North End was rapidly becoming gentrified, but it still retained its Italian village feel. The renovated Quincy Marketplace had opened just three years earlier and was already a huge tourist attraction. The old, gray, rough-around-the-edges city was emerging from its decades-long decline and was regaining its former position as the Hub of the Solar System. It was an exciting time to be a Bostonian.
On that rainy day in October the entire city came together to welcome a very special visitor, Pope John Paul II, the Polish pope. After his jet plane, the Shepherd, landed at Logan Airport, the Pope’s motorcade proceeded through the Sumner Tunnel and down Hanover Street on its way to the Boston Common where the Pope celebrated mass in front of 400,000 soggy but enthusiastic people.
The pictures accompanying this article were given to me by Genevieve Trio. Her grandparents, Tony and Genevieve, took them from the roof of the building on Hanover Street that housed their ravioli shop. The crowds lining Hanover Street were anxiously awaiting the pope’s arrival. My wife and I were in that crowd near the corner of Richmond Street. The pictures show the Hanover Street of forty years ago, which was the main shopping street in the North End. You can see DiCarlo’s furniture store, Nobile Insurance, Scott’s Discount Shop, and Varese Shoe Store.
The only shop that is still there is Modern Pastry; all the others are now restaurants catering to tourists and out-of-town visitors. Across from Modern Pastry, and just out of sight, was my favorite store, the Tosi Music Company. The store was divided down the middle, with each half presided over by one of the Tosi brothers. On the left were musical instruments and on the right, guns. Beretta pistols were always on display. This juxtaposition of sublime music and horrific violence had an operatic feel that I loved. “Questa e la bacio di Tosca.” But the store that many old North Enders miss the most was Trio’s Ravioli Shop, which was a beloved fixture on Hanover Street for almost fifty years.
Tony’s father emigrated from Sicily to the United States in the early years of the twentieth century. For some reason he ended upon a small Pennsylvania town near Pittsburgh called Republic, where there was a large Italian population. Like many of the men in that area, he became a coal miner and Tony followed him into the pit when he was old enough to leave school. Tony was tall for an Italian, over six feet, and the coal mine tunnel was only four feet high. He had to bend over and crawl on his hands and knees to dig coal out of that subterranean hole.
After seventeen years of mining his back and lungs were giving out. In 1951 his wife Genevieve visited a friend who lived in Cambridge and liked it there. After staying with her for several weeks, she sent for Tony and encouraged him to leave the mines and move permanently to Boston. After working for the Hood Rubber Company for a while, Tony and Genevieve decided to open a pasta shop in East Cambridge.
It quickly became a success and, when a storefront opened up on Hanover Street, they moved the business to the North End. Genevieve’s family had a small restaurant in Pennsylvania called the Cozy Nook so she was familiar with the food business and knew how to cook. Tony caught on fast, and Trio’s pasta and ravioli became a huge success.
Tony and Genevieve made their own tomato sauce as well as other sauces. My children grew up eating ravioli and other pasta from Trio’s at least once a week. At lunch time, Tony would make pizza that was different from the usual kind. He would get a large, round Italian bread, pane rotondo, slice it in half horizontally and cover the cut sides with his tomato sauce, cheese and maybe some pepperoni. He would then bake it in his oven until it was crisp and bubbly on top. The pizza proved to be hugely popular and would sell out so fast I rarely got to try it because it would be gone by the time I got out of work.
Tony died of black lung disease in 2000. His family kept the shop open for a few more years, but it just wasn’t the same without his gruff presence behind the counter and Genevieve tending the stove in the back. His daughter opened an Italian food shop in Cambridge called Cremaldi’s which was very popular with the Cambridge intelligent and foodies. Julia Child was a regular customer.
Tony and Genevieve never had an opportunity to have a good education, it was work or starve for their generation. One of the last times I spoke to Tony he shared with me that one of the proudest moments of his life was when his granddaughter, Genevieve, graduated from the prestigious Buckingham Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge. A lot of pasta went into paying that tuition but, to Tony and Genevieve, it was worth every penny.
Trio’s Ravioli Shop has been gone for almost twenty years, but the pasta survives in the hands of Tony and Genevieve’s granddaughter, Gen, who is the official keeper of the recipes. Gen has a small catering company in Cambridge and every so often she sends me a quart of marinara sauce and some fresh ravioli. It tastes as good as ever and brings me back to Tony’s wonderful shop on Hanover Street.
Nicholas Dello Russo is a lifelong North Ender and columnist. Often using vintage photographs, Nick tells the stories of growing up in the North End along with its culture and traditions. It was a time when the apartments were so small that residents were always on the streets enjoying “Life on the Corner.” Read more of Nick’s columns.