Lisa Ribaudo was first introduced to wine by her Italian grandfather, Antonio Ribaudo. While Papa Tony made wine in the basement of his Detroit home, the Ribaudo siblings would be like glue to his side, enthusiastically crushing grapes with their little feet. In actuality, they were creating quite a mess, but it was in this quaint Detroit wine cellar that Lisa's love of the vines was first cultivated.
My grandparents meeting was truly the joining of two different worlds. My Grandma, Florence Violet Lee Eago, was a carefree, excited 20-year old vacationing and exploring America. She and her mother came to the United States to visit her sister, Mable, who had recently wed, immigrated to the United States, and was eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child.
My Grandpa Eago was born in 1895 in Mardin, Turkey. In 1918, he was a very frightened, 23-year old young man, fleeing his country in fear of his life as the Armenian massacre erupted and was growing in deaths to over 1 million. Grandpa Eago fled to America and settled in Detroit, Michigan. He immediately found work with the neighborhood grocer. He learned the business well, and when the owner retired he convinced Grandpa to take over the rent and utilities, and to purchase his inventory. Grandpa Eago was now a “self-employed” entrepreneur!
Grandma Eago met her soon to be husband at this quaint Detroit grocery store. At the time she was visiting the United States from England for an American hiatus. Grandma was always eager to shop for their groceries, as she was quite taken by the proprietor. If she was in the store and it was busy, she would stay and help grandpa. He too became quite taken by this lovely English lady. A romance blossomed and they were married on November 18th, 1922. Grandma never returned to England.
Grandpa tired of the grocery business and eventually sold the store and went to work, first at Red Seal Cleaners and then Henry’s Cleaners. He worked 12 to 14 hours a day, learned the business inside and out, and became the best in his trade. In 1945 he opened his very own “Fawn Cleaners” on Gratiot Avenue in Detroit. The business grew and he later added a line of menswear and the business became “Fawn Cleaners and Men’s Fashions”. Success was truly his. He was able to care of his family of eight, while giving them all that they needed, and most of what they wanted. To Grandpa Eago, his true success was in his family. My grandparents instilled in their 6 children immense love and respect for each other, and encouraged them to always be the best of friends with each other, and for each to share their friends with their siblings. There are now only 2 children left out of the Eago clan, but there are hundreds of grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren.
But here the story saddens. In her mid 30s Grandma Eago was stricken with leukemia. She was hospitalized in a coma, losing her hair and the skin on her body. Unfortunately for her, she had a very rare blood type. A radio program, “We the People” asked listeners with this blood type to please donate. Grandpa was grief stricken, and went to the Monastery on Mt. Elliot to Father Salonus Casey. He explained that he didn’t know how he would raise his six children without his wife. Fr. Salonus had him kneel in prayer, put his hand on his shoulder and said “return to your wife’s bedside. She will awaken and live to raise her children.” On return to the hospital, Grandma Eago opened her eyes and said “get me something to eat, I’m starving”. It was, without doubt, a miracle. Miracles do happen. She lived just about 50 more years before passing away at 82, and yes, of Leukemia.
My mom, Beverly Jane, recalls her childhood with great joy. Her fondest memories are of spending Sunday’s at the lake, picnicking, sleeping under the stars at Belle Isle, spending summers at Salvation Army Camp, going to Bob Lo Island on the boat with Grandma’s homemade English pasties (they were wrapped in tin foil and newspaper, and the aroma was intoxicating), attending the Michigan State Fair and the Romeo Peach Festival. At Christmas time, visiting the J.L. Hudson’s downtown and seeing the “real” Santa Claus. Mom remembers wonderful holidays, as do I. Christmas Eve was my most awaited evening of the entire year. It was always at Grandma & Grandpa Eago’s, and all six children were there with their children, my cousins. As our family grew, Christmas Eve grew. The food was an amazing mix of English and Syrian/Armenian. My Grandma would prepare English pasties, roast fresh pork, bake homemade fruitcake and plum pudding, but that was only ½ of our meal. She learned how to make authentic middle-eastern food from her dear friends from the old country at The Mardin Club of America, and we had that as well … raw and baked lamb kibbeh, grape leaves, meat pies, lamb and vegetables, and on and on. The memories of this one night for myself and all my cousins are those that can’t be explained. It was the bonding of family with amazing food, drink and music. Yes, the dancing never stopped from the moment we walked in the door. After my grandmothers passing my mother has continued the Christmas Eve tradition, and now for the past two years I have done the hosting.
My parents were married on June 25th, 1960. This marriage merged the Italian family, The Ribaudo’s, with the middle eastern family, The Eago’s. I can truly tell you it was a merger, as a bond developed between these two clans that remains today. The families seemed to become one.
My grandfather, Antonio Ribaudo, was born in 1885 in Misilmeri, Sicily, a small town 9 miles outside of Palermo. He had 5 siblings, Vincenzo, Caterina, Josephine, Marietta, and Salvatore. My grandmother, Josephine DiPisa, was from this same quaint town, but strangely enough, it wasn’t until they both came to America that they officially crossed paths.
Grandpa Tony and his brother Vincenzo came to the U.S. in 1902. Antonio was only 17 years old. Upon his arrival in he went to Nebraska for a short period of time where he worked on the railroad, laying railroad tracks. From there he moved to Chicago, and it was there that he officially met, “Josephine from Misilmeri.” They fell in love, married, and made Chicago their home until they moved to Detroit in 1926. They had 4 children; Santa, Larry, Grace and Santo.
Sadly my Grandma Josephine passed from cancer in 1951 at the age of 52, well before I was born. To this day I still feel somewhat robbed that I wasn’t lucky enough to meet her. Everyone that speaks of Grandma Josephine says what a beautiful soul she was. They tell of her constant smile, and reminisce entering the Ribaudo home which was always filled with so much love, the aroma of amazing Italian food, and the sound of my Grandma Josephine singing. I guess she was always happy, and always singing. Not a bad qualities to have – we could more of the same in our homes today.
Above said, my heartbroken grandfather took over the role of both father and mother for the Ribaudo family, and lead cook in the family. My memories of his food are vivid, and as a little girl I was convinced that he had magic in his hands because everything he touched turned into sheer deliciousness! I have recreated many of his dishes throughout the years, all from watching him do his magic, Sunday after Sunday after Sunday, for as long as I can remember.
Grandpa Tony’s specialties were many, but one of my favorite was his homemade bread. As it baked he would occasionally pop the oven open and tap-tap-tap on the top with his fingers while turning the loaf. He would continue to do this until it “sounded” right – and it was only then that it came out of the oven. His table bread was a square loaf, but he made special round loaves too for the next treat out of his sleeve, Pane con Sadu. These special loaves, fresh out of the oven, would be split down the middle and painted with olive oil, and then layered with Fontina, Provolone, and Pecorino cheeses, followed by a light dusting of salt and cracked pepper. Then he’d put the halves together, place a towel over them and smash the bread with his hands over the towel, further infusing the olive oil into the bread and cheeses. He’d call us on the telephone to tell us he had fresh, hot “pane con sadu” out of the oven. The Ribaudo (and Pizzimenti) families would all rush to his home on the East side of Detroit to get our share.
I can taste our Sunday dinners at his home, which were nothing short of amazing. His roasts were cooked on low heat for hours, and stuffed with cheese, garlic and fresh herbs. When he sliced them table side he made certain that each piece had some cheese and garlic in it! Another favorite were his homemade noodles. As a special treat he would serve the pasta the way they did in Sicily - out to the table on a wooden board that covered the entire table. We would all eat off that board, drawing our portions from the center over to our little corner. That was an old Sicilian tradition that he loved sharing with us, as he shared so many things of Italy.
My love of the vine started at a very young age in Grandpa Tony’s basement. When you walked downstairs into his wine cellar basement, the slightly damp, grape infused air was like an intoxicating perfume to me. I remember helping him crush grapes, and I remember all the fruit flies. When I was just 6 or 7 years old he would give my brother and I a small shot glass filled with wine at the Sunday dinner table. I can my see my mom’s eyes rolling at the table, and he would say “ahhhh – it’s a good for them”. When we were young teens we were upgraded to a juice glass, and then in our later teens we were given the privilege of a regular glass of wine with dinner. That is how I was exposed to wine, as part of the table setting. On the Ribaudo table it was knife, fork, spoon, olive oil, grated cheese and wine!
One of the things he loved most after his family and cooking was the racetrack, and his American citizenship. In fact, he carried his citizenship papers and his passport in his coat pocket everywhere he went, including the racetrack! He took the bus to Hazel Park Racetrack once a week. He became friends with “the guys” he met at the track, and it was fairly commonplace for his police officer friends to call him to see if he needed a ride to the track. Priceless! I remember him sitting with the newspaper spread across the dining table, circling in pen the horses he would bet. If a horse’ name reminded him of any of his 11 grandchildren, he would bet that horse. But he also looked at the stats and numbers. He knew all our birthdates, and again, if they matched the horses, that horse would be his lucky bet.
He had two favorite sayings, the first being more of a motto. He would say, out loud, constantly, “Every day, in every way, I’m feeling better and better and better!” He was a firm believer in the power of positive thinking, and he believed that if you repeated this to yourself over and over…..you would feel better! The second statement makes me giggle as I can still hear his voice saying this after all these years …. “I don’t know what it is, but everybody they meet`a me, they like’a me!” Grandpa Tony lived to the age of 96. And I know exactly what it was about him that everybody loved so much. It was his passion - he was passionate about everyone in his life, and about everything he did. He had a big heart, an even bigger soul, he smiled with his eyes, and I swear to you he had magic in his fingertips!
He was a very special man and you will see him on my family wall at La Cucina del Vino. He’s the one with the apron on. Bless you Grandpa, we love and miss you more than I can say, thus the tears on my computer ….. but please know they are full of beautiful memories. Thank you for teaching me so much about family, food and wine. I sure hope I make you proud.
I was born on September 25th, 1962 and from the very start I was daddy’s little princess. My brother came along on March 31, 1964 and our family was complete. My father, Santo Ribaudo, well – I could seriously write a book about this man. He was truly one of my biggest hero’s, and still is, although he watches us from above now. My dad was an eager, hard working, positive person - and my mother, Beverly, was and is exactly the same. In the mid 70s my father joined a group of 40’ish entreprenuers from Atlanta, Georgia and together they founded A.L. Williams Insurance Company. Their motto was “buy term, invest the difference”. In just a few years this group of nine, along with the support of their spouses, grew to be tens of thousands of across the country. One of the most successful life insurance companies in America. The company was eventually sold to Citigroup, one of the best known financial services organizations today.
My father experienced success he could not have dreamed of, and he lead hundreds of entrepreneurs’ to follow his path to success. His company, Ribaudo & Associates, logo was the American Eagle, and my dad soared with the eagles. My father, Santo Ribaudo, passed away on April 11th, 1988. He was 56 years young. I really have only had a couple of bosses in my entire career, one of them was my father. I would be amiss if I didn’t explain what an amazing father and mentor he was. He was all about pushing people up, giving them wings to soar like an eagle, providing them with all the tools he possibly could to help them succeed, believing in them, building them up with knowledge and self-confidence. He was positive. He was a leader. He loved Vince Lombardi and Zig Ziglar. He loved people. However, his biggest success was in duplication. Helping others find the success he found. He was ultra-generous, too much so at times, but loved by all. He was my biggest inspiration, other than my mother, who just left us this year to be with the angels. When the pain is not so raw, I shall write about Beverly Jane Ribaudo ... she was an amazing human being and the world just isn't the same without her in it.
And here is today. After spending 25 years of preparation working for a wonderful restaurant group, Andiamo, I have stepped forward with my greatest accomplishment, La Cucina del Vino. It translates in Italian to “the kitchen of wine” … but it’s much more than that. I pray that the determination, positive attitude and will to win that my father possessed has passed on to me, so that I too can realize my wildest dreams. I am going to work very hard to make La Cucina del Vino the place to be you choose to come to when it’s your time to relax. Our aim is to offer really good, authentic food and wine from all over the world, in a warm, inviting, friendly atmosphere. It’s our goal to attack your senses. Food, wine, music, classes, dancing, art, friendship - a multi-cultural destination. A place we’d like you to think of as your own.
In Vino Veritas,
Lisa J. Ribaudo