Back in the day Cedar Villa was the only restaurant in the area open when the bars closed, and customers would be lined up out the front door and into the parking lot for one last dinner/breakfast rush from 2 until 4 a.m.
I met Giorgio Spadaro in 1973 when I filled out an application to be a bus boy. My mother took me to the restaurant, she said later, because she was sure "they would never hire that skinny kid."
But sure enough, he did. I worked with Giorgio and his brothers Guiseppe, Ignazio and Giovanni until August 1975, and Giorgio kidded me many times over the years that he "didn't know how (the restaurant) ever stayed open" after I left. Those were heady days and the cast of characters we worked with still lives in my mind fondly all these years later.
There was sweet Jeannie making the pizzas and singing C'e na luna mezza'o mare Mammamiam'ho maritari, Ignazio stirring the pasta and Guiseppe and Giovanni grilling the steaks. Uncle Roy Barone was ringing up the tabs and counting the cash, Lloyd was washing dishes and Giorgio and hostess Mary Hadley were out front greeting and seating the guests. Waitresses Carole Ann, "Granny," tantalizing Tina and beautiful Becky took the orders and promptly delivered the food to the patrons when Ignazio rang that annoying bell that signaled "orders up."
And I was clearing tables along with my friends Bob Pooch, Ralph Kuhlman and others, wearing a crisp short-sleeve white shirt and a clip-on black bow tie. My mother years later explained she couldn't renege on our agreement that I could work there if they hired me, and she bought me more than a dozen marked-down white shirts for $1 each from the downtown JCPenney store where she worked. I can still see all those boy shirts in my mind's eye on hangers lined up and waiting for another workday. I was so proud to be a "working man" with cash in my pockets.
Cedar Villa is where I met Rita Schnipke and Holly, who I later came to realize were the first enlightened people I ever knew. It's where I learned the value of hard work and the importance of having fun doing it, because the Spadaro family was all about hard work and enjoying life. They made this proud German wish he were Italian; they felt like family.
During the school year my shifts were Fridays and Saturdays from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., but cleanup after closing time sometimes took until 6 a.m., and we all broke bread together after the rush was over and the last customer was out the door. I also worked the Sunday 5 to 9 p.m. shift, when the tables were topped with starched white tablecloths and folded cloth napkins. In the summers I picked up additional overnight shifts during the week.
I regularly rode my bike in the evenings to the Cleveland Road restaurant, and back to our Camp Street home in the mornings as the sun rose. The most productive hours of the day, I learned, start at about 4 a.m., and I remain an early riser to this day.
On cold winter days we bus boys were all too happy to go out to the parking lot and start the cars for the waitresses so they'd be warm and toasty when it was time to leave. Gas was under 50 cents a gallon and although I was just 14, I remember driving the '67 Ford Mustang one of the waitresses owned round and round that parking lot just to make sure it was extra ready for the drive home. Sweet Tina owned a '67 Mercury Cougar, and we also put some parking lot mileage on that classic car.
Cedar Villa and all my friends from back then impacted the course of my life in great and powerful ways. I am the person I am today -- at least in part -- due to the wonderfully warm and safe work environment provided to me and many others by the Spadaros.
They sold the restaurant a couple years ago after more than 35 years of hard and rewarding work. All things must change, and change is constant. Change is good.
It was a sad day in June, however, when I learned Cedar Villa would close permanently.
And there, you have it.