At Pepe’s Italian restaurant in Worcester, it’s all about family and food

WORCESTER – Whether in Italy or the United States, the Travaglio family have always been side by side, most recently when opening an Italian pizzeria in Worcester.

Italian restaurant Pepe’s, which opened in 2010 on Franklin Street and moved to 181 Shrewsbury St. last month, is owned by four members of the Travaglio family: Thomsina Travaglio, John Travaglio, Teresa Travaglio and Luigi Romeo.

Thomsina, 72, mother of John and Teresa, immigrated to the United States with her father from Caianello, Italy, when she was 13, in 1961, when her father remarried an American.

John and Teresa are first generation Americans, born in Worcester. Romeo, Teresa’s husband, is an Italian immigrant who moved to the United States at the age of 8, in 1972.

Thomsina said she didn’t like life here when she first came to the country; she couldn’t understand the language and the culture.

It took him years to get used to this way of life. She met an Italian husband, originally from Vieste, Italy, and they married when she was 24.

“There are more job opportunities here, makes life more comfortable here, and it’s hard to find jobs in Italy but it’s beautiful,” said Thomsina.

Before embarking on the restaurant business, Thomsina had not worked since her marriage. Her husband, who died in 2015, ran his own conveyor belt business in Sterling for 25 years, but it closed when she was diagnosed with cancer.

Thomsina joked that her husband forced her to go to work in her 60s. She was reluctant to do it at first. She spent a lot of time in the kitchen when the restaurant opened in 2010. She wanted to make sure the chef prepared the right Italian recipes.

Make the dream of father and son come true

The idea for the restaurant arose when John had plans to open a bar, an idea his father rejected, saying it couldn’t be just a bar and had to serve food.

Her father also dreamed of opening an Italian pizzeria. And although he was not an experienced cook, he loved to bring his native flavor to the United States.

“We worked hard to get a recipe that was really close to Italian,” said Thomsina. “You don’t have the same ingredients as in Italy.”

The restaurant’s original plan was to make an authentic Italian pizza the way Thomsina’s husband wanted, but it later turned out to be an infusion of Italian and American.

The original pizza recipe was from a close family friend in Italy.

“They gave us the recipe for how to mix the sauce and even the dough, and (we) finally found (our way of making it) close to what we were supposed to do,” she said.

Operate a restaurant as a first generation American

Coming from an Italian background where many hardworking people collaborate with others, everyone worked together, said Teresa Travaglio, Thomsina’s daughter and mother of five.

Despite being a first generation American, Teresa said she was raised as an Italian and spent a lot of time in Italy with her parents growing up.

For her, it is a difficult question to choose one country over another.

“My mom always says it’s always difficult to know two countries because you never know where you want to be,” Teresa said. “Life there is very laid back so I like it, but I miss the convenience in America like Stop & Shop and CVS 24 hours a day.”

Teresa worked in a salon next to the restaurant location while John worked at the Worcester County Jail and Reformatory in West Boylston before starting the business.

Now the family handles food orders, greets the customer, and takes care of the paperwork. Many of their family members help out with the business, including Teresa’s grandchildren who sometimes help fold the pizza boxes. They also have 12 employees, including chefs and waiters.

“My father has always been grateful for the opportunity he has had here in the United States which makes us love this country as much as Italy,” Teresa said.

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