Back in the early 1970s, I loved summer vacation, especially when I had the opportunity to spend the week with my grandparents, Helen and Eddie Czaja. At the time, everyone was working or out of the house, so during the week it would be just my grandmother and I. She made up the spare bedroom on the second floor of her West Matson Avenue home. I can still recall the smells of the early August mornings just before the temperatures warmed into the 80s and 90s. She would come in early and open the shades and windows. We made the bed, hospital corners a must, got dressed and packed me into the Buick to go to Storto’s.
The restaurant was a catalyst of extended family activity. Located on East Raynor Avenue, it was much larger on the inside than it appeared from the street. It had the front bar, which led to a section of booths. Two doors, one led to the kitchen, the other to the banquet area in the back. The banquet area, closed on the average day, featured a lot of space and a second bar. Another door lead into the kitchen. Many of the special family events took place in this room during my life time and countless more before I was born.
We entered the restaurant from the back. As you entered, there was a large walk-in cooler. I can’t even recall the number of times that I wondered what I would do if the door ever closed in behind me. My great uncle Alfred and his wife Marge, would undoubtedly already be bustling around the kitchen. I will always remember him with a cigar hanging from his mouth, sometimes lit, sometimes not. Although a gentle giant, he had the look to scare many a child, myself included. The rest of employees seemed to vary from time to time. I can remember my seeing Diane Czaja and Muggs (Margaret Fanizzi) waiting tables. I seem to recall my Patty (Patricia McCarthy) and Emily (Emily Tursi) there from time to time as well. I’m sure I’m missing many, as I believe most of the extended family worked there at one time or another. Of course you’d see many more relatives stopping in to eat, either in the front or sitting at the preparation table in the back.
There was a spunky bartender named Gina that worked there in later years. Another woman named Cathy washed dishes.
I can recall sitting next to one of the Germain boys, possible Scoop, when my grandmother put a plate of meatballs in front of both of us. Uncle Alfred looked over and commented “Jesus Helen, you’re going to put us out of business.” A common remark I heard many times as he witnessed the proportion sizes going out to the patrons.
Theodore Storto was born in Castellino del Biferno, Campobasso, Molise, Italy on February 23, 1885. He was the son of Pasquale and Louise Storto. On May 5, 1906, at the age of 21, he boarded the S.S. La Bretagne in Le Havre, France and arrived in New York 9 days later.
Listed as Teodore on the manifest, he was in route to Syracuse, New York to live with his brother Leonardo. At the time, Leonardo was residing at 1004 State Street. The manifest went on to state that Theodore was a farmer by trade, in good health, with a total of $15 cash in his possession.
He was naturalized in 1911 and working as a grocery store manager (825 South State Street) in 1913. He was also a cement worker by trade, a skill set that would eventually be passed down to his sons. Theodore’s working papers indicated that he was a member of the “Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Finishers’ International Association of the United and Canada” as early as 1917 (registration #41629) and his occupation listed on the 1920 census had him listed as a contract / mason.
Around 1910, Maria Ferrante was living at 1217 South State Street with her parents Marcellino and Ermalinda. Although the actual details of how Maria and Theodore met are still unknown to me, I can speculate that proximity and fate would lead them to each other as they would marry in 1914.
They went on to have eight children: Theodore Louis (Teddy – 1916), Romeo Michael (Ray – 1918), Alfred Thomas (1919), Ermalinda Rita (Emily – 1921), Richard Patsy (Dick – 1923), Helen Juliet (1925), Louise Elizabeth (Betty – 1926) and Marguerite Josephine (Muggs – 1932).
I’ve also counted myself very fortunate as I was able to known many of them, as well as their extended families. Sadly, all but Margaret have passed on, although their lives live on in our hearts and memories.
The Storto family ran into hard times financially in the early 1920s and eventually filed for bankruptcy:
But the family would bounce back. By 1930, Theodore had purchased the properties at 105 and 107 East Raynor Avenue. On 105 East Raynor, he opened Raynor Cafe and at 107 East Raynor, the family established their residence.
According to the 1930 census, the Storto family had established residency and the property was valued at $15,000.
Although most of the family have always referred to the restaurant as Storto’s, it was identified as Raynor Cafe into the 1950s. As Theodore died in 1952, ownership transferred to his children and I’m speculating the name changed occurred around this time.
Building upon the financial success of the cafe, Theodore wanted to purchase something for his sons when they returned from the war. Sometime around 1945, he purchased Kuhn’s Grove in Jamesville from George Kuhn. Based on various newspaper articles and ads, my best guess is that the grove was acquired around 1948, although that year may be pending revision.
Once again, running of the establishment was a family affair. I’m personally too young to remember the Grove being under ownership from the family, but I’ve heard plenty of stories from the generations before me.
In addition to being a lucrative business, it was a gathering site for the entire extended family. Below is a picture that shows the size of these gatherings.
Theodore passed on February 5th, 1952. The official cause of death being cardiac infraction. Sometime in the late 1950s, the sons sold the Grove. Under the ownership of his children, the primary owner being Alfred, Storto’s restaurant went on for decades, leaving great memories for family and friends alike.
After Alfred’s death in 1981, the restaurant was sold later that year, around August.
I feel truly blessed to have known just a little part of it’s history, albeit toward it’s end.
Other known people to have worked at Storto’s:
- Bombardo, Gracie – Waited tables
- Brigida, Virginia Fanizzi – Waitress (Grove)
- Butera, Rosemary – Kitchen help
- Buck, Pearl – Waited tables
- Czaja, Diane – Waited tables
- Czaja, Helen Storto – Cook
- Depew, Nancy – Waited tables
- Fanizzi, Muggs Storto – Cook / Waited tables
- Frank ??? – Dishes
- Gina ??? – Bartender
- Mulcahy, Christine – Cook
- Stagnitta, Betty Storto – Office/Bookkeeper
- Storto, Alfred – Owner/Cook (Storto’s & Grove)
- Storto, Margaret Louray – Cook
- Storto, Raymond (Storto’s & Grove)
- Storto, Richie
- Storto, Teddy – Bartender (Storto’s & Grove)
- Storto, Theodore – Owner/Bartender/Cook (Storto’s & Grove)
- Tursi, Emily Storto – Cook