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.

Hanover Street, 1979.

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.

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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. 

Trio’s Ravioli Shoppe on Hanover Street, 1979.

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 Trio with Gen.

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.

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17 COMMENTS

  1. I bought my first 45 in Tosi’s (calm down ) it was a record called ” Hound dog ” by Elvis.Had to scrape up 89 cents. Great memories Nick.

  2. The first 45 I bought at Tosi’s was “Little Darlin” by the Diamonds. I was fascinated by the Bowie knives in the window and the stuffed animals on display inside. Great store.

  3. Didn’t Trio’s become a store brand for a while? Before moving to Boston I remember buying buying this brand in a Supermarket and the package had Tony’s picture on it. It was my favorite. After moving to the North End, I noticed the small shop while walking home from work, walked in and sure enough there was the the guy that was on the package. Not sure what prompted the question, but he looked at me kind of annoyed and asked me whether I was a lawyer. I sensed some bitterness, so I responded: What do you call a bus load of lawyers driving off a cliff? He hadn’t heard this one, so I said: Well that’s a good day. He remembered me after that. I enjoyed going into his shop and yes, it wasn’t the same after he was gone.

    • You’re right, T. Tony listened to some bad advice from “private equity” guys who promised him fame and fortune. It never happened and he was very disappointed. Tony came from a background where honesty, integrity and hard work meant something. He just wasn’t used to the sleazy ways of Wall Street.
      Just thank God Ralphie and Paul down the street at Umberto’s haven’t gone down that road. They’ve had scores of offers to franchise or go national. They wisely stick to what their parents taught them, work unbelievably hard, offer a superlative product and the lines go out the door.

  4. Great article Nick…Thank you. Can you share the name name of Gen’s catering company in Cambridge. I would be very interested in tasting her authentic sauce. Also loved the idea of Tosi’s. I didn’t grow up here, but also remember the thrill of going to the record store to purchase my first 45’s. My store was on 86th street in NYC and I would walk with my girlfriends 10 blocks to go there. They had little booths you could go into and play the music…we would crowd in and dance. I never knew who owned the store, but they must have been very patient with all the neighborhood kids.

    Thanks.

    Eileen Logan
    617.966.9611

    • Eileen, I’ll forward this to Gen. Every so often she thinks about opening a fresh pasta shop but the amount of work involved is daunting.
      Tosi’s also had small booths with sound dampening walls where you could sample the music.

  5. Nick, you are the best.
    Your articles are full of joy, love, and wistfulness. The accompanying photos bring it all back to life.
    I remember the smells and aromas of the North End. Honest, robust, assertive, and real.

  6. I remember going into Tosi’s one day and Pat Cooper was in there. I bought Pat Cooper’s album and
    he autographed it for me. He was a funny guy.

  7. Nick, as always, thanks for trip down memory lane. Although, I had long left the North End when Trio’s opened, I do recall seeing it during my many trips back to visit family. Back in my day, the “pasta” and only “ravioli” shop I remember was Biagi’s (?) which I believe was on Richmond St which is sort of an extension to Parmentar when it crosses Hanover. How well I remember all the shops that lined Hanover. As you indicated, all restaurants now. At that time (30’s & 40’s and well into the 60’s there were only about 2 restaurants, European and the Canteen. Times have surely changed but the North End still retains some of it’s heritage…especially where I resided, at Copps Hill, Snow Hill and Hull Street. My wife and I Always enjoy touring our neighborhoods and taking our grandchildren on what I call the “roots” tour. Again thank you. Vincent Sordello

  8. Dear Nick, after having read your wonderful articles on the” once upon a time” North End. I especially adored the segment on Trio’s Ravioli Shoppe, I almost started to sob while reading it but had to control myself to be able to give you a big thank you for thinking of my parents. You brought back so many of my memories If only we could go back in time, those were wonderful years in the North End. My memories of my father’s big mustache & mesmerizing customers with his stories, my mother making & stirring her famous red sauce while she supervised my brother Louie making all the pasta, but most of all I can remember, out of the blue, eggs being thrown against the wall and very loud yelling at each other, funny thing was that the customers who walked in acted as though nothing was happening, my husband Cosmo who helped on weekends would explain to the customers that they were having an italian board meeting………oh those were the days.
    Hugs to you Nick

  9. Biaggi’s was great too. I remember they would cut the pasta for you when you ordered. The family was elderly, so every time I went in I felt that this too would soon be gone. But I am glad that I was able to experience these great real North End places.

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