80 Years of Angelo’s
An iconic Western Pennsylvania restaurant defines its success
It all started in 1939 with spaghetti and meatballs. Originally named The West Chestnut Spaghetti Inn and located in Washington, Pa., 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, Angelo and Giacomina Passalacqua served freshly made pasta and bread daily to the region’s blue-collar workers, launching a family-run legacy now owned and operated by their grandson, Michael Passalacqua.
Angelo’s celebrates its 80th anniversary in 2019 and is not only an example of longevity, but a thriving, living record of what it takes to maintain success for generations in a difficult industry.
“My grandfather was an entrepreneur’s entrepreneur,” says Michael Passalacqua, a “restaurateur of the year” award recipient by the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association. “He went broke many times and bit off more than he could chew. I definitely have his tenacious genes.”
That kind of tenacity has served Angelo’s well, surmounting the kinds of unforeseen challenges that can put independently owned restaurants out of business. Though a busy establishment for decades, circumstances tightened a grip around the restaurant in the late 1990s when the local economy was sinking.
At that point, lunch business dropped from 120 covers a day to 20. “The glass factory, steel mills and companies that worked with the coal mining industry all closed,” recalls Passalacqua. “For a period of three years, I was nearly broke, and it took me months to pay some of my bills.”
Passalacqua would lie awake at night worrying if he could survive it. Working nonstop and forfeiting a salary, he made cuts with triage-level intensity; maximizing cost control, conducting weekly inventories, costing out recipes, analyzing profit-and-loss statements and scrutinizing every bill coming in.
“The only way you are going to stay alive in this business is knowing the numbers,” advises Passalacqua. “If you’re not staying on top of things, your chances of longevity are pretty slim.”
After that turmoil was resolved, Angelo’s faced yet another round of struggles a few years later. The neighborhood was rapidly deteriorating, and parking issues were driving away business. The kitchen was so small, hot and miserable it was hard to retain staff.
An unfathomable decision had to be made: Relocate to a better location or face the consequences. Recalls Passalacqua, “It was not an expansion—it was truly a survival move.”
The new Angelo’s, built from the ground up a mile away, features a larger dining room, private event space for 60 people, two kitchens and a patio. To ensure the previous clientele felt comfortable in the completely new space, Passalacqua installed design details from the old restaurant, including the custom columns and artwork. He even retained the signature color scheme. Soon, a gelato and dessert manufacturing space was added with a retail counter that today offers 18 gelato flavors as well as gelato and mousse cakes.
Passalacqua finds perseverance in detail-oriented accomplishments every day. “I’m a big believer in small change,” he says. “I’ve been doing this for 38 years, and I’ve never taken my foot off the gas once. I tweak this, I tweak that and just keep working in that direction.”
Dining Room 1955
Dining Room 1978