by Terry Rogers
Giuseppe Laragione did not begin his career in the restaurant business, although he did grow up surrounded by authentic Italian cooking. Born in Naples, Giuseppe worked for a company that made oxygen in his native Italy before deciding to travel to the United States to make a better life for his family. On Friday, January 4, Giuseppe turned 80 years old.
“He had a great job, actually,” Franco Laragione, his son and owner of Mama Maria’s today, said. “He had more than 100 men working under him. However, he knew that the plant had been purchased and was being turned into a Navy base, one that still exists there today. His brother was married to an American and had become an American citizen, so he came to work in New Jersey for two years in the 1970s.”
Giuseppe had a friend, Attillio, who owned a pizza franchise with about 200 stores on the East Coast. One of the stores was located in Milford and Giuseppe was approached by his friend to purchase the location. It was the farthest from the other stores and Attillio was having difficulty maintaining it. Giuseppe accepted the offer and moved to Milford in 1979, operating the small pizza and sub restaurant known as Attilio’s while his family remained in Italy.
“The restaurant was a success,” Franco said. “Not long after he took over the store, my brother, Sal, came to Milford. A year and a half later, the rest of us, including me, arrived here.” Franco began working in the store at the age of 13, washing dishes and cleaning. He recalled that his father built a wooden box to reach the pizza ovens.
Franco learned to make dough and prepare the Italian dishes his father brought with him from Italy. He also had a strong work ethic which he instilled in his children. Giuseppe constantly reminded them that they should never feel they were too important in the business to do menial tasks like sweeping floors.
In 1981 or 82, the family opened Mama Maria’s next to Roses Department Store. Franco explained that the restaurant was named after his father’s mother. They also opened a Mama Maria’s location in Dewey Beach.
“Many people think it is named after my mother, but her name is Rosalia,” Franco said. “We operated both Attilio’s and Mama Maria’s until 1995. At that time, we decided to close Attilio’s and combine the two restaurants in one location because Mama Maria’s was our name, not the name of another company.” A few years ago, Mama Maria’s built its own location on North Dupont Highway and moved from the shopping center where it had been since it opened as Attillio’s in 1979.
Giuseppe’s 80th birthday was celebrated on Friday with a small party for family and friends at the restaurant.
“He has not been involved in the business for a while as he has retired,” Franco explained. “But his presence is still felt here and we wanted to be sure we did something to recognize his accomplishments.”
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