The Grotto Restaurant, a well-established Waterbury dining landmark, is celebrating their 75th anniversary. Owners Joe and Bernadette Graziosa announced they will begin their anniversary celebration on Wednesday, September 11 at 11:00 a.m. with a ribbon cutting ceremony and refreshments, and through Saturday, September 14, they will offer daily specials for $19.38/person for the year The Grotto opened. The restaurant, catering and wholesale company is well-known throughout the region for serving fresh Italian pasta and sauces that are made on-site at their 634 Watertown Avenue location.
Co-owner Joe Graziosa stated that The Grotto is well-known for creating home-made cheese and meat raviolis, cavatelli pasta, and fresh meatballs every day. “Customers tell us they love coming into our restaurant because the moment they enter they smell the rich aroma of fresh bread baking, simmering spaghetti sauce and are warmly greeted by our very friendly staff.” The Grotto also offers daily take-out and catering services, and their home-made foods are sold in LaBonne’s in Watertown, Woodbury and Southbury; Oliver’s Supermarket in Prospect; Town Plot IGA in Waterbury; Four Corners Market in Middlebury; and Walsh’s Market in Wolcott. Opened in 1938, The Grotto’s opening followed the opening of two other well-known restaurants on Watertown Avenue in Waterbury, Nardelli’s opened in 1931 and Frankie’s opened in 1937. “They were known as The Big Three by area residents,” stated Joe Graziosa.
The Grotto was created by Walter DePesa from Massachusetts and Leo Marra from Waterbury, after DePesa visited Italy and was so enthralled with the country and the cuisine, he recruited his friend Leo to start an Italian food service business, DeMar Foods, in Waterbury. In 1938, The Grotto began on Union Street across from Sacred Heart High School, then moved directly across the street, then moved to Scovill Street, became a take-out only service on South Main Street, and finally the Graziosa family opened it at its current location at 634 Watertown Avenue.
In 1948, the Graziosa family became involved when Joe Graziosa’s mother, Bertha, began working at The Grotto restaurant. Her part-time waitress position turned into a full-time job for 40 years. “She learned everything,” stated Joe Graziosa, “so in 1970 when Leo Marra wanted to retire, he encouraged my mother to purchase the business. As a family, we bought the restaurant, and my mother taught me everything she had learned.” This was a new career for Joe Graziosa who was a successful licensed electrician with one of the largest electrical companies in New England, Joseph McNellis Electrical. Graziosa was a member of the team which installed electricity for Waterbury’s famous Holy Land and the city’s Municipal Stadium.
As second owners, the Graziosa family bought a building on Watertown Avenue, Joe designed the interior and family members helped create the new restaurant. Bernadette Graziosa’s father, Daniel (known as Danny the Bricklayer) Coradazzi hand-crafted the entryway stone columns, the slate floors, and single-handedly put in 2,200 tiles one-by-one throughout the kitchen and
entryway. Her sister, Dolores Gallagher and members of Dolores’ family created unique interior murals that depict storefronts of well-known businesses that were once in Waterbury.
In 1977 when the Graziosa family expanded the restaurant into two rooms, the Gallagher family painted more murals including Jacques Burlesque Theatre which features murals of actual theatre performers including Billy Watson, Petite Marie, and Rosita and Her Doves. One mural depicts The Chocolate Shop, a favorite 1940’s ice cream parlor for after-movie-goers to Waterbury’s popular State Theater and the Palace. “My parents met there,” stated Joe Graziosa. “Mom was a waitress and an in-shop candy maker.” Other murals in today’s dining room include a painting of the Clock Shop window which features depictions of Ingersoll “Yankee” watches made at Ingersoll Rand on Cherry Street in Waterbury, and the popular Neopolitano Bakery.
With the expansion, Bernadette Graziosa began using her marketing and design skills to create gift baskets as a ‘second business’. Formerly a highly-successful banking associate for nineteen years, Bernadette turned her management and creative skills into creating gift baskets in 1989 stating she would “give it one month.” Within the first ten days, she sold 25 baskets between December 15 and 24 “just by putting them out on the counter.”
That was the beginning of what is now the well-known The Grotto and Mrs. G. For the past 24 years, Bernadette Graziosa’s gift basket designs have grown to notable success. She has a dedicated and creative staff that helps with the assembly, marketing and distribution of her designs. Additionally, she created a large in-restaurant gift shoppe, and she travels to food and gift shows each year in search of more distinctive and beautiful items for her extensive offerings. In 2014, Mrs. G’s Gift Basket was once again named by “The Waterbury Observer” monthly magazine as the “Best Gift Basket of Greater Waterbury” and the best gift basket for 16 years.
The Grotto Restaurant is a community-minded company contributing to numerous events and organizations. Joe Graziosa chaired the Easter Seals Chocolate Expo for two years and participated for 10 years. Bernadette Graziosa has held leadership roles with the former Waterbury Day Nursery, former Waterbury YWCA, Association of Savings Bank Women of CT, American Business Women's Association, Business Women's Forum (BWF) committee for 8 years and is immediate past chair. Currently, she is president of Literacy Volunteers of Greater Waterbury, a member of National Female Executives, and a member of Waterbury Regional Chamber for the past 35 years.
For their 75th anniversary, The Grotto will sell their homemade meatballs for 75 cents each. In celebration of their 1938 opening, they will offer three course anniversary dinners at $19.38 per person September 11 through the 14th with soup or salad, entrée, dessert and a glass of wine. Beginning at 11 a.m. on September 11 through the morning of September 14, the public is invited to enter their special 75th Anniversary Door Prize Contest. Purchase is not necessary to enter the contest and winners will be announced at 3 p.m. on September 14. Winners need not be present at the drawing to receive their prizes. The Grotto is supporting the local food bank and asks attendees to bring in a non-perishable food item.
To learn more about The Grotto and Mrs. G’s, visit www.thegrottoandmrsg.com, on Facebook at TheGrottoRestaurantMrsG’sGiftBaskets, or call 203-754-0295.